In view of the tourist season opening on May 14, Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis spoke to Sputnik Hellas about the Russian-made Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine and the conditions for the entry of Russian citizens into Greece.
Theocharis stated that “Greece recognises Sputnik V as an equivalent to European vaccines” and added that “from May 14 we will allow Russian citizens to be able to come to our country without restrictions.”
Is your statement that Greece will open its borders with Russia on May 14 valid?
We plan on having a dynamic situation, so we will monitor the health data.
But we are safe enough to say that all planning is to open with Russia on May 14.
What will be the conditions? Will vaccination be mandatory for entry into Greece?
We can explain exactly how the integrated system for the opening of tourism in Greece works.
In order to come to Greece from Russia, one must belong to one of three categories: either to have been vaccinated, to have had a negative test, or to have recovered from the disease.
Therefore it is not necessary to be vaccinated but the vaccinated do not even need to be tested.
Regarding vaccines, Greece and the European Union have recognised four vaccines. Will the vaccination certificate be valid for Russian vaccines as well?
We are really pleased that the Russian company that produces the Sputnik V vaccine has also applied to the European Medicines Agency so that European citizens can be recognised and vaccinated with this.
We hope that this process will be completed as soon as possible, always respecting the medical rules for recognition.
But regardless of whether it will be used as a recognised vaccine for medical purposes, our country has decided that the Sputnik V vaccine is equivalent to the European vaccine for travel reasons.
A tourist can come to our country without having to be tested every time he flies.
Russians start vacations and travel at the end of April. Do you think Greece can open its borders earlier?
We would be very happy to do this.
We are two [Christian] Orthodox people and we celebrate our Easter on May 2 together, but it is not something I can promise our friends from Russia because even our health workers would like us to be a little more careful in the way we open.
So this is not something I can currently promise our friends from Russia.
But are you discussing it?
We will try, but I cannot, at least for now, promise it.
I wish we could do it, I wish the results from the vaccinations and how the disease is progressing would allow us to be good and positive, but I would not like to promise something that we will not be able to implement.
So everything depends on the epidemiological data?
Our country always respects its citizens and guests who will come, and their health is above all.
That is why everything we do is always guided by the safety and health of the people who are in our country.
So all tourists, no matter where they come from, must follow the protocols that apply in Greece.
Exactly what applies to Greeks, will apply to foreign tourists who will come to our country.
You said that tourism did not have a negative impact on the COVID-19 situation in Greece.
The average number of cases in Crete was in August 160, in September 170, in October 1,800.
It was after tourism that the cases came.
Now there is a limit of 500 Russian citizens coming to Greece every week. When do you think this restriction will be lifted?
This restriction should be canceled with the opening of tourism on May 14.
If something better can be done, I will come back when we are able to say something else, but on May 14 is when this restriction will no longer apply.
As we understand, there must be a decision not only of Greece, but also of Russia for the opening of the borders. Are you consulting with the Russian side?
Yes, we are talking to the Russian side.
We welcome the recent decisions that have allowed both the flights and the movement of Russian citizens to Greece and Greeks to Russia, so we see that there is a response to all this.
I want to believe that we have shown in practice how much we want our brothers from Russia this year to be able to visit our country with what I told you, with the recognition of Sputnik V beyond the European recognition.
With our willingness to be fully open from May 14 onwards, I am sure that the Russian side will do everything it can to help increase the flows between us.
When do you expect flights from Russia to be extended to all Greek airports?
Our planning is for May 14.
We, for our part, will allow Russian citizens to come to our country without restrictions in general.
This will include other airports, not only in Athens, but also wherever charters want to fly.
As far as we know, you intend to visit Moscow in mid-April to sign contracts.
Yes, we want to promote the discussions.
It will be an opportunity to see my counterparts and to make contacts on a business level, and with the players of the Russian market to explain to them exactly how the systems will work and how we expect their customers.
In Russia there is a vaccination certificate, but it is in Russian.
It should be translated, we will ask for at least some basic information in English so that it can be checked that it is the same person who has the passport.
As you understand, it is not easy to have people at our borders who speak all languages.
What are your price forecasts for this summer?
This summer will be better than last year, not many people see it, but we do.
I do not want to go into quantitative predictions because I believe that looking at the numbers this year, as well as last year, is the wrong target.
Our goal must be to be able to carry out a project as a country, as a tourist destination.
Everyone, therefore, must be able to come to our country if they want to and must leave safe and sound.
So this is a top priority for us and talking about numbers this year is, I think, the wrong message.
I am not afraid of the issue of prices, we are not going to have very high prices because, especially this year, we will have tough competition.
We will have a period in which all countries will somehow open up and more supply will be ready than demand, and therefore we will have the possibility of prices for all budgets.
When will museums and archeological sites reopen?
It is an issue that concerns us.
I believe that we will be ready sometime in April and therefore we will be able to offer services and cultural tourism (museums, archeological sites, etc.) in May, when we have planned our opening.