Greece planning to reopen for tourists in mid-May

ATHENS (AFP): Greece on Thursday said that it hopes to reopen the country to tourism in mid-May as its accelerated coronavirus vaccination programme will provide a “wall of immunity” for residents.

The country’s “Operation Freedom” will be made possible thanks to an expected increase in vaccine deliveries during the second quarter, including over a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni told reporters in Athens.

The government aims to finish vaccinating all the over-60s by May which would provide “a first wall of immunity” against the virus.

Despite a rise in COVID-19 cases “Greece is ready with a complete protocol for summer 2021”, said Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said, specifying that tourists would be welcomed from May 14, a month before the start of the traditional tourist season.

Such tourists will have to show that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, have antibodies against the virus or have recently tested negative.

On top of that “all tourists will be subject to random testing”, said Theoharis.

So far one million of the 11 million Greek population have received a vaccine jab, including 400,000 who have finished the vaccination course by receiving a second dose.

The Greek government, which has supported the idea of a European vaccine passport, foresees a gradual reopening of its borders in April to travellers from fellow EU countries and to countries such as Israel, which have well-advanced vaccine programmes, the tourism minister told a world tourism conference via video link.

A special focus of Greece´s acceleration of its vaccine programmes will be the residents of its islands, with help from the armed forces.

By the end of April, all the residents of the smaller islands will have been vaccinated, though it may take longer to complete the process on the larger islands such as Crete, Rhodes and Corfu, said health ministry general secretary Marios Themistokleous.

Due to the high levels of contagion, the government has repeatedly prolonged its coronavirus restrictions, which are now entering their fifth month and are likely to be extended again on Friday for at least another week, according to epidemiologists.

“We are looking at another 10 difficult days,” with great pressure on hospitals said Peloni.

Greece has suffered 6,900 coronavirus deaths, more than half of which have occurred over the last three months.