Greece holidays: Aegean islands to welcome tourists in April as Covid-free region

Boris Johnson discusses vaccine passports for overseas travel

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Islands that makeup Greece’s Aegean archipelago are set to become the first “COVID-free” areas of the nation ahead of summer holidays. Authorities in the region have said all residents of at least 69 islands will be fully vaccinated by the end of April.

Though there has been no confirmation as to when holidays will restart for Britons, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hinted some overseas travel may return with the implementation of a “traffic light system”.

Greece, meanwhile, has already vowed to welcome back British tourists.

Greece’s tourism minister Haris Theoharis displayed hopes of opening up to international arrivals by May 15 but added “some” airports may be relaxed in April.

“From sometime in mid-April we should be able to accept UK citizens, and those from other highly vaccinated countries, to test the new rules at a few entry points,” Mr Theoharis told the Guardian.

“Not all 20 airports, but the ones most commonly used, such as Corfu, Heraklion in Crete, Athens and Thessaloniki.”

Among the destinations welcoming back tourists in April could be some of the Aegean islands, where residents are likely to be completely vaccinated against the virus.

The government vaccination program has been dubbed “Eleftheria”, Greek for “Liberty, and will see islands with no more than 1,000 inhabitants being targeted as some of the first to be “COVID-free” according to the Athens0Macedonian News Agency.

In March, they were reported to already be making plans for the tourist season.

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Many of the isles that makeup the Aegean islands have recorded an impressibly low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Lipsi, which is situated in the southern part of the archipelago, has recorded just one case since March 2020 according to the island’s mayor Fotis Mangos.

“We’ve been in lockdown, our shops and schools are shut, but I put our success to throwing all our weight at people coming in,” he said.

“They’re tested twice and we’re very strict about it.”

On the island, nearly everyone who is eligible for a vaccine has received both shots, according to Mr Mangos.

“We have so many smaller isles,” said Marios Themistocleous, the health ministry official overseeing the programme.

“Precisely because they’re so difficult to get supplies to, we decided to vaccinate entire populations in one go with the aim that when they begin receiving tourists, permanent residents are fully vaccinated and protected.”

The Greek army has been called in to aid the scheme, alongside police and coastguards who have been helping with transporting thousands of vaccines to the many tiny islands.

Islands with fewer than a thousand inhabitants where the vaccination program has been completed include Kastellorizo, Meganisi, Kastos, Thimena, Psara, Kalamos, Fourni and Inousses.

Other islands partaking in the scheme include Erikoussa, Agathonisi, Nisyros, Gavdos, Halki, Mathraki, Lipsi, Othoni, Tilos and Arki.

Greece’s tourism minister Haris Theoharis has welcomed the concept of a vaccine passport, but also says conversations with the UK Government are ongoing.

“For us, the British market is our main market. Since we are a member of the European Union, the solutions have first to be part of the discussions in the EU,” he said.

“Obviously, if that cannot be reached, we will be thinking of green corridors that can help us restart tourism flows.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also given clear hints vaccine passports will become a likely method for reopening travel.

Speaking during a visit to Middlesborough, Mr Johnson said: “There’s definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports.

“I think when it comes to trying to make sure that we give maximum confidence to businesses and customers in the UK, there are three things – there’s immunity whether you have had it before so you have natural antibodies, whether you have been vaccinated, and of course whether you have had a test.”

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