Greece to scrap quarantine for British tourists as Malta plans Covid certificate to lure UK visitors

Nick Squires
·4 min read
The island of Naxos in the Cyclades  - Emi Cristea 
The island of Naxos in the Cyclades - Emi Cristea

Greece is to throw open its borders from next week to visitors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or who have tested negative, in promising signs for British tourists hoping to book a holiday.

It is encouraging news for Britons yearning for an Aegean break, even though there is a ban on non-essential international travel until May 17 at the earliest.

Whether British tourists have to quarantine on their return home will depend on how Greece is classified under the traffic light system that will be announced by the government at some point in early May.

The government has said that Britons should not book holidays yet because of the uncertainty of which countries will be green, amber and red.

Current regulations state that all foreigners arriving in Greece have to show negative tests and then quarantine for seven days.

But the Greek government plans to lift quarantine restrictions for travelers from the UK and the European Union as well as the US, Israel, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates.

It comes as the country aims to open up to tourism from mid-May.

"We will gradually lift the restrictions at the beginning of next week ahead of the opening on May 14," a senior tourism ministry official told Reuters.

Visitors from Britain and the other countries will be allowed to fly in to the airports of Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu.

Travelers will not have to go into quarantine as long as they prove that they have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine or show a negative PCR test carried out 72 hours prior to their arrival.

On arrival, however, they will be subject to local lockdown rules – a resurgence in cases over the winter means that Greece has been under tight restrictions for months.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, has strongly pushed the idea of Covid certificates as a way of kick-starting international travel this summer. That is crucial for Greece, where tourism accounts for a fifth of the economy.

Meanwhile, Malta is holding bilateral talks with the UK about a digital coronavirus certificate that would allow British tourists to visit this summer, the country’s tourism minister said.

Malta is desperate to attract British tourists this summer - Flottmynd
Malta is desperate to attract British tourists this summer - Flottmynd

The Covid-19 travel certificate would feature a QR code which would include the date on which a traveler had had their two vaccinations.

The Maltese government has not yet said whether the app would be issued to tourists who had not had the vaccine but could show a negative test result.

The travel certificate, if approved, would allow smooth travel between the UK and Malta, which is anxious to make up for the crippling losses its tourism sector has suffered during the pandemic.

British visitors make up around a third of total tourists in Malta each year.

The EU is discussing the creation of some sort of Covid-free travel certificate but Malta is ensuring that if that scheme does not get off the ground, it will still be covered by the bilateral deal with the British.

“We will not be limited by the European Commission talks and if they drag on beyond Malta’s target for recovery we will enter into bilateral agreements like those we are currently discussing with the UK,” Clayton Bartolo, the tourism minister, told Malta’s parliament on Tuesday.

A view of Valletta, Malta's capital - Getty
A view of Valletta, Malta's capital - Getty

He said talks with the British High Commission in Valletta and the UK authorities were progressing well.

“In discussions we had with the UK government, we are already exchanging information in relation to this digital certificate and the components it should have,” the minister said.

Malta hopes to open up to tourism on June 1, when most Covid-19 restrictions are expected to be lifted.

By then, it is hoped that the entire adult population of Malta will have had at least one jab.

Last week the government announced financial incentives for foreign tourists who book their holiday in Malta.

Tourists who book a stay in a five-star hotel will get €100 from Malta's Tourism Authority, which will be matched by the hotel for a total of €200. Those opting for a four-star hotel will receive a total of €150 and those booking a three-star hotel will receive €100.

The incentives will increase by 10 per cent for tourists booking accommodation on Malta’s sister island of Gozo.

The Malta Tourism Authority has been allocated €3.5 million to pay for the scheme, with hopes that around 35,000 tourists will access it.

Tourism directly and indirectly accounts for more than a quarter of the island nation’s economy.

More than 2.7 million tourists visited in 2019, before the pandemic hit, but those numbers have fallen by more than 80 per cent.

“Our objective is to re-establish the Maltese islands as a safe and quality destination in the shortest possible time,” said Tony Zahra, the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association.