ATHENS — Backlash from Germany and France has led Greece to disallow the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine as one of those accepted to let tourists come, questions about its efficacy remaining.
That means tourists from Russia will have to have a negative molecular test if they want to come to Greece, which is trying to lure as many foreign visitors as possible to come to bolster an economy hammered by lockdowns.
In April, Greek Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis assured Russians that Greece’s national vaccination committee includes the Russian vaccine as an equivalent to European vaccines for travel purposes.
“There is, therefore, no issue for Russian citizens who are vaccinated to come without having to undergo a screening procedure and additional tests,” Theocharis said.
But the site Euractiv said that has now changed because of the pressure from Germany and France with a European Union COVID-19 certificate approved by the European Medicines Agency recognizing only Pfizer/BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
But there is a provision for countries to accept vaccines from other countries but only if they have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or by the regulatory authorities of other EU member states.
Anxious to get as many visitors as possible, Greece opened the door to anything just to get people to come but it drew fire from critics, with Sputnik V not being recognized by the WHO although some other EU countries are recognizing it, including Hungary.
At an EU meeting earlier, media reports said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel – backed by French President Emmanuel Macron – criticized Greece for okaying Sputnik V, especially because it's not known whether it works on the rising Delta variant from India.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had dismissed those reports as “journalistic exaggerations,” because it went against Greece's policy.
“My personal assessment, which I believe is shared by the majority of the European Council, is that there is no need to impose additional restrictions on travel from countries where this mutation already exists and its spread is more pronounced,” he added.
That also contradicts advice from some health experts in Greece that the Delta variant will be the dominant strain in Greece in August, the peak of the summer tourism season, and could undercut the hopes more people would come.
EU sources told EURACTIV that according to the law, Germany is correct but there's, as usual, a political factor because Greece needs tourists and the government is apparently willing to overlook the risk of allowing visitors with vaccines that haven't been approved.
Sources in Greece not named by the site said that Germany's position isn't surprising because Merkel is said to want to discourage Germans from going to southern Europe for vacations and keep them in Germany to vacation and spend there, cutting out Greece.