In a wide-ranging interview with CNN on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he can foresee implementing a “Green Vaccine Certificate” type system for travelers coming from non-EU countries.
Commenting on how well Greece has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, he also stated that by Summer, Greece will be ready to welcome travelers once again, and do it safely.
Remarking how pleased he was to have put forward the idea for such a vaccine certificate system back in January, the Greek PM said that the agreement Greece already has with Israel could be the prototype for such a protocol, which would greatly facilitate travel this Summer.
“I expect this 'Digital Green' passport to become standard in travel.”
Plus, expanding digital tools for non-EU members to enter safely & easily. / Part 1 pic.twitter.com/lemEWylblN
— Julia Chatterley (@jchatterleyCNN) March 17, 2021
“Europeans will feel the need to travel” once vaccine certificate plan in place
“Come Spring and Summer,” Mitsotakis said, “Europeans will feel the need to travel. At the time that I proposed the vaccine certificate, there was some pushback, but I am very happy that the Commission has adopted this idea.
“As more people become vaccinated,” he added, “I expect this digital green passport to become standard in travel and I do expect that it will allow us to open safely for the Summer holidays.”
When Greece opens its arms to travelers for its Spring tourist season starting May 15, the Greek leader said, this will dovetail with the expectation that many more Europeans will have received the vaccine by that time.
“Open to putting in place a similar arrangement”
The PM stated “I expect travel to pick up significantly during the Summer.
While, he noted, “most of our travelers are from the EU, when it comes to travel from outside the EU, of course we’re open to put into place a similar arrangement.
“We are starting out with Israel because Israel has vaccinated more than 50% of its population and Greece is a very popular destination for Israeli tourists.
“So we intend to replicate this new vaccine certificate system with countries that are outside the EU,” he noted. “And I expect these passports will be the standard tool that we will use for facilitating travel.”
Stating that in the Summer of 2020, Greece did manage to open up safely, the Prime Minister admitted, however, that “we received a fraction of the tourists we usually receive.
Tourists in Greece will get “the full Greek experience”
“Apart from the vaccine certificate,” he said,”Greece will see to it that travelers come to Greece in a safe manner.”
All the appropriate protocols will be in place, he stated, “while ensuring that they all get the full Greek experience without any compromises, while placing their safety as the absolute priority.
“We did it last year, and we can certainly do it again — much better — this year, with all these new tools at our disposal.”
Allowing as how the Europeans are experiencing new waves of coronavirus infections at the present time, the Greek PM said “All European countries have seen a second and third, and now, some countries are seeing their fourth, wave. Greece is also seeing a surge now as we speak which is the equivalent of the third wave that manyEuropean countries saw a few months ago.
Greece one of best EU nations in vaccination pace
“But as more people get vaccinated, I expect we will be able to cope with Covid more effectively. Greece is one of the best countries in the EU when it comes to the pace of vaccination,” Mitsotakis said.
“Once we reach the milestone that we expect to reach by the end of April — which is that we will have vaccinated everyone over 60 with at least one shot, as well as everyone with a serious underlying condition — we will be releasing a lot of pressure on our hospitals. That is the point at which we can anticipate a return to normal activities.”
And that, of course, will coincide with the issuance of the vaccine certificates and the country opening up to the world once again.
Likening that future situation to what is now the reality in Israel, he said, where some people are still becoming sick with Covid but the hospital systems are able to cope with the situation, “that is where I hope we will be for the next 6 to 12 months.”
“Benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the costs”
Addressing the refusal of Greek authorities to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, the Greek leader replied “the EMA has been very, very clear in telling us that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine clearly outweigh the potential costs. And that is why Greece was one of the countries that went against the trend and we are currently continuing our vaccination program.”
Adding that he expects the EMA to make a decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine tomorrow, Mitsotakis said that if the program must be suspended, then “of course we will suspend it immediately.”
But what he didn’t understand, he said, was that “all the European countries have trusted the EMA so far and I don’t see why decisions have to be taken at the level of individual states. We have aligned ourselves fully with EMA recommendations, and until further notice we will continue with our AstraZeneca vaccination campaign.”
“Everyone is tired of dealing with Covid”
Asked how Greece is dealing with the fatigue that has set in around the world after suffering a year of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, Mitsotakis said “We have to be honest, everyone is tired of dealing with Covid. What you see as ‘Covid fatigue’ around Europe has common characteristics.
Had Greece not taken the draconian measures it had, the Greek leader warned,”things would be significantly worse” now.
Acknowledging, however, that the Greek hospital system is “under stress,” he said “we are still able to deal with the problem, and I am certain that, had we not taken the steps that we did take a month ago we would be facing a much more severe crisis now.”
“We will be open for the Summer”
“I do expect this latest wave to plateau within the next week to ten days and then start coming down,” he noted.
Speaking about how Greece has improved its health care system, Mitsotakis stated that “we have more than doubled our ICU beds and significantly strengthened the Greek health care system.
“Despite all its challenges,” he stated,” Greece still ranks as one of the best European countries regarding its deaths per million, which is the best statistic by means of which to measure how well a country has done in fighting the virus.
As the number of vaccinations increase, and vaccine certificates are issued, he promised, “we will see greatly increased economic activity and we will be open for the summer.”