Technical discussions are underway between Greece and the United Kingdom to explore how to facilitate travel between the two countries this year, Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said on Thursday.
Speaking to BBC 4 radio, the Greek minister said the two countries at the moment are in “very preliminary discussions” with Athens expressing how the Greek government plans to make travel easier in the coronavirus-era.
“I’m very hopeful that we can reach some kind of solution at least on the technical side,” Theoharis said, expressing his hope for a “semi-normal” summer this year.
“We certainly hope that this summer, with the vaccination programs, the situation will be much better than it is now,” he said, noting that the UK has become a leader in the area of vaccinations. “Cases in the UK have dropped,” Theoharis said.
During the interview, the minister confirmed that Greece’s idea on using Covid-19 vaccination certificates to facilitate travel are part of discussions with the UK.
Theoharis highlighted that Greece does not want to limit traveling only to those that are vaccinated. “But the need for testing could be limited by the vaccination certificate,” he explained.
“We are currently mandating that before travelling someone has to have a negative test result… Obviously this is a waste of resources for people that are vaccinated to be tested every time they travel,” Theoharis said, underlining that those vaccinated would not need to be tested “again and again” every time they take a trip.
Theoharis also brushed off concerns when BBC’s host suggested that vaccinated individuals can still pass on the coronavirus and that perhaps vaccination certificates would give a “false sense of security”.
The minister said that the same concerns exist for people that test negative for Covid-19.
“They are allowed to travel and of course a few minutes later or a few days later they may catch the disease and spread it… The vaccination certificate is a step forward, not a step backwards,” he said.
When asked about the dangers of people forging vaccination certificates to travel, the minister said the vaccination certificates are issued by governments, by single authorities, and not by various labs in various countries.
“Ιt’s a step forward and that’s why we are starting these discussions early in order to be able to solve any technical issues and ensure that we can verify those certificates,” he said, adding that Greece’s digital vaccination certificate has three levels of security and it can be confirmed and verified by the relevant authorities of the various countries that Athens is in discussions with.
Regarding concerns about the new variants of the virus that causes Covid-19, the minister said that although the situation has not worsened, things can change.
“We have to follow the developments, listen to the health experts and adjust our strategy as the events unfold,” Theoharis said.
The UK is the second largest market for Greek tourism, after Germany. According to Theoharis, during a “normal” year, Greece usually welcomes some 4 million visitors from the UK.