The UK will have to improve its performance in tackling coronavirus before being seen as a key source market as Greece opens up to tourism this summer.
Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis confirmed that the UK’s record on the virus is currently not good enough for British holidaymakers to visit when direct flights restart.
He was speaking to ITV News after the country’s prime minister announced plans to reopen for overseas tourists from July 1 when international flights will be able to serve Greek resorts following seasonal hotels resuming business from June 15.
A list of countries from which visitors will be able to arrive in Greece will be announced before the end of May.
The choice will be based on “epidemiological criteria” as determined by Greece’s committee of experts dealing with the pandemic.
But Theoharis said Greece will be waiting for figures in the UK to improve before British travellers are allowed to return.
Balkan and Baltic countries, Germany and regional countries such as Israel and Cyprus are expected to be in the first wave of those whose citizens will be allowed to enter Greece, Theoharis said.
“I think that the UK has a big difference in terms of the current medical status of the country with Greece, so I don’t think it’s likely it will be there,” he said.
Allowing tourism to return was clearly a calculated risk, Theoharis said.
“How do we strike the right balance between protection and how do we preserve the core of the experience, because obviously people go on vacation to be free, carefree, to think about relaxation,” he told an on online Economist conference.
“And how do we do this keeping our infection numbers low and the strength of our health system [on a level] where it can deal not only with citizens but tourists as well.”
Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday that visitors would be subject to sample coronavirus testing and “our general health protocols will be adhered to, without them, however, overshadowing our bright sun or the natural beauties of Greece”.
He added that Greece has “managed to restrict the spread of the virus,” saying: “We made our country an example to follow in the handling of the health crisis.”
Mitsotakis revealed a reduction in VAT for five months on all transport from 24% to 13%, which will lead to cheaper ferry, flight, rail and bus tickets during the tourist season, as well as a cut on tax on coffee, soft drinks and open-air cinema tickets.
Italy said on Wednesday that all airports could reopen on June 3 for national and international flights.
This followed 11 EU member states – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – agreeing to a set of rules aimed at allowing cross-border travel while minimising the risk of Covid-19 infections.
Any tourists visiting foreign member states would not be placed under quarantine and could safely return home, they agreed.
However, the UK plans a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals into the country from the end of the month, although specific details are yet to be announced. It also continues to advise against all but essential international travel – effectively preventing foreign holidays being taken.
Health secretary Matt Hancock previously warned Britons that they were unlikely to be able to go abroad on holiday this summer.
Hancock said: “It is unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer. I just think that’s a reality of life.”