Greece and Israel signed an accord on Monday to ease travel restrictions to Greece for Israelis with proof of Covid-19 vaccination, a move Athens hopes will support its bid to use vaccination certificates to save its battered tourism sector.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has pushed the idea of using standardized certificates showing travellers have received an inoculation as a means of opening up international travel for the vital summer season.
"We need to facilitate travellers once they provide easy proof of vaccination and this is what we intend to do with Israel," he said at a live-streamed joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
Tourism, which accounts for about a fifth of the Greek economy and employs one in five workers, collapsed last year as the pandemic gutted revenues to 4 billion euros ($4.81 billion) from 18 billion in 2019.
Israel has been a world leader in vaccinations, with more than a third of its population receiving the Pfizer Inc -BioNTech shot.
Mitsotakis said Israel's rapid vaccine campaign meant Monday's agreement could point the way for similar accords with other countries later, allowing tourists to visit without additional restrictions.
"I expect what we will be doing with Israel to be a trial run for what we can do with other countries," he said, adding that he expected a gradual suppression of COVID-19 in the months ahead to release considerable pent-up demand for travel.
On his side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Mitsotakis "volunteered that Greece, their leading hospital, would partake in the clinical trials" for a new vaccine developed by Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center and that this would be "an example of our cooperation in forging ahead to new areas.”
The hospital said it had completed phase 1 trials of the jab which appears to have helped some moderate-to-serious cases of Covid-19 recover from the disease.
Mitsotakis has forecast a strong rebound in tourism this summer, saying vaccination drives in markets including Israel will allow tourists to return despite current industry gloom.
The 27-nation EU continues to debate whether certificates should be required for cross-border travel. Critics say such certificates could be discriminatory and it remains unclear how effective vaccinations will be in halting transmission.