There could be a “semi-normal summer” of travel with the introduction of vaccine passports and mass testing, Greece’s tourism minister has said.
Greece has already agreed to a trial run with Israel to allow vaccinated people to travel freely between the two countries, once international flights resume.
Haris Theoharis revealed that the Greek government was in very early discussions with UK officials about how it might work.
Technical discussions underway
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Theoharis said that technical discussions were underway with the UK to see if travel would be feasible. The tourism minister praised the speed of the UK’s vaccination programme, hoping its efficiency would give hope that the “situation would be much, much better” by the summer.
Theoharis also said that vaccine passports would be a secure option, with test certificates more easily susceptible to forgery, compared with vaccine certificates validated by a government body.
“We don’t want to limit travel to those who have been vaccinated but since we are mandating that before travelling someone has to have a negative test result, this is a waste of resources if people are vaccinated to be tested every time they travel, the need for this testing could be limited by the vaccination certificate,” he added.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the rollout of vaccines was “absolutely essential” for summer holidays to take place. He has also urged UK residents to be patients about booking breaks away from home.
Airline companies pressure
Bosses of some of the biggest airline companies in the UK have pressed the Government to include aviation in the road map for the easing of lockdown restrictions, set to be laid out by Boris Johnson on Monday (22 Feb).
The heads of Easyjet, Virgin Atlantic, Jet2, Tui and Loganair have all urged ministers to make a clear statement on the resumption of international travel post lockdown.
“We’re not saying lift all travel restrictions from tomorrow,” Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said.
“We’re saying there is a way to lift restrictions safely as the vaccination programme is rolled out and hospitalisations fall.”
Proposals presented by the airlines call for a “risk-based approach” which allows for a gradual restart of operations, with travel restrictions removed using a tiered system in time for summer.
The proposals see arrivals from the worst affected countries subject to tougher measures, including quarantine. Those entering the UK from countries with a low Covid risk, such as Greece and Israel, would enter unrestricted.
The industry leaders also called for restrictions to be eased for those passengers who have been inoculated.
Shai Weiss, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “The situation remains dynamic. Over time countries could move up or down [the tiers], depending on how well they're controlling the virus and the level of vaccinations, both in the UK and in the other country.”
“The vaccine rollout should eventually enable those who are vaccinated to travel without testing and quarantine when it is safe to do so,” Weiss added.
However, he warned that those who have not had the jab should not face additional “barriers” to travel but accept that they would face “additional requirements in the short term like pre-departure testing”.