Rejoice tourists! Italy and Greece ease coronavirus restrictions

ROME (AP) – For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier.

Italy and Greece eased some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday ahead of the peak summer tourism season in Europe, in a sign that life is increasingly returning to normal.

Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority announced that it has lifted all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights except for wearing face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show evidence of vaccination, a negative test, or a recent recovery from illness.

From Sunday, visitors to Italy no longer have to fill out an EU passenger locator form, a complex online ordeal required at airport check-in.

Italy has also abolished the health card that was required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other venues. The green corridor, which has shown evidence of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent negative test, is still required to access hospitals and nursing homes.

Some indoor mask jobs have also ended in Italy, including inside supermarkets, workplaces and stores. Masks are still required on public transportation, cinemas, all healthcare facilities and nursing homes.

“It was needed,” said Claudio Civetelli, a resident of Rome, having morning coffee in a bar near the Trevi Fountain. Until Sunday, patrons had to wear a mask to enter bars and restaurants, although they could take it off to eat and drink. “We’ve waited more than two years.”

At a nearby table, Andrea Bechler, an Italian tourist from Trentino-Alto Adige, sat with friends, all without masks.

“It’s much better,” Pichler said. “Suppose it’s a return to life, a free life.”

In Greece, where tourism accounts for about 20% of gross domestic product, enforcement of the rules had already waned before Sunday. On the tourist island of Mykonos, revelers flooded beaches, bars and restaurants the weekend before the Orthodox Easter holiday. Some owners said the work was the best they had seen in years and expected that to continue into the long Labor Day weekend.

Vaccination certificates in Greece have been canceled, not permanently, but from May 1 to August 31 and it will be decided in August whether to return them. Restrictions on the number of customers indoors have also been suspended. But masks are still required indoors and in vehicles in Greece, and experts recommend using them outdoors in crowded situations such as concerts.

Business owners said many unvaccinated people were among those who enjoyed the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ve seen again old customers we haven’t seen since November,” when vaccination certificates first became mandatory, Michalis Ipetrobidis, general secretary of the Association of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes and Bars in Thessaloniki, told The Associated Press. “By punishing the unvaccinated, the state was punishing us.”

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, has been a hotbed of hard-line vaccination denial and protests against COVID-19 restrictions.

Like Italy, Greece saw a decline in tourism revenue in 2020 and only partially rebounded in 2021. Greece is now hoping for a record tourism year in 2022 – and so does neighboring Albania, where restrictions were also lifted on Sunday.

Public health officials say masks are still highly recommended in Italy for all indoor activities, and private companies can still order them.

Given that the virus is still spreading, Dr. Giovanni Reda said, “We must continue the vaccination campaign, including the boosters, and continue the behavior inspired by wisdom: wearing masks indoors, in crowded places, or wherever there is a risk of infection.” Responsible for prevention at the Ministry of Health.

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Nilas reported from Athens, Greece. Francesco Sportelli from Italy, Costas Kantores from Thessaloniki, Greece, and Lazar Semeni from Albania contributed.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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