Greece, Cyprus, Israel move to set up ‘corona corridor’ for travel

ATHENS, GREECE – Quarantines and travel don’t mix, but Greece is contemplating opening its borders to travelers from at least two other countries whose COVID-19 outbreaks are under control to revive tourism, which has been devastated by the pandemic.

The move, according to Tourism Minister Harris Theoharis, would include setting up a “corona corridor” among Greece, Cyprus and Israel, attracting tourists less willing to travel far in the coming months, allowing them access to the islands of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas by early July.

“Several details still have to be worked out,” Theoharis told VOA. “But when we knocked on Israel’s door, it opened wide open. The interest is there; so too with Cyprus.”

“It is an ambitious scheme that could square the circle,” he said.

After Cyprus, Greece is the European Union’s most vulnerable country in terms of tourism. The profitable industry accounts for about one-fifth of its economy and 1 in 4 jobs. Also, in recent years, the country has become a favorite travel destination for young Israelis, attracting nearly a million visitors from the Middle Eastern country.

Details of the corona corridor plan have yet to be finalized. However, its creation, Theoharis said, would allow travelers to forgo quarantines or two-week isolation periods.

“You don’t want to go on holiday knowing that you will spend it in lockdown,” Theoharis said.

Empty chairs with various slogans from the union of bars and restaurants owners are placed at Athens’ main Syntagma square…
Empty chairs with various slogans from the union of bars and restaurants owners are placed at Athens’ main Syntagma square May 6, 2020.
Times nevertheless remain difficult for the tourism industry.

Since much of the world went into lockdown and nations closed their borders to slow the spread of COVID-19, international travel has plunged, bringing an industry employing 75 million to a standstill.

While travelers cannot globe-trot as they did three months ago, studies show that many still dream of escaping their homes — albeit for nearer destinations.

The European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, is to release the first EU-wide guidelines for coronavirus-era tourism on Wednesday. Until then, though, several states, including Greece, have wasted no time in taking matters into their own hands.

Detailed negotiations with Israel and Cyprus in coming weeks will focus on attempts to thrash out a deal to revive tourism while preventing a catastrophic second wave of the disease.

“That means agreeing on every possible guideline and health protocol — from the medical clearances travelers will need to have before setting foot in either of the three countries, to whether hotels will offer breakfast and dinner buffets,” Theoharis said. “Tracking and tracing systems will also have to be in place if there is an outbreak of infections at a resort.”

“It is a difficult exercise,” he said.

Yet with the EU reluctant to issue a blanket release on travel, options like the corona corridor are gaining appeal.

The Czech Republic is said to be considering a similar plan with neighboring Slovakia and Croatia. Malta, the Mediterranean island nation that relies heavily on tourism, has also called for the creation of “safe corridors” among territories and regions proven successful in their management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early and rigorous controls instituted by the Greek government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have helped keep most of the country’s idyllic hot spots free of the pandemic.

A man wearing a mask to protest against the coronavirus walks in Syntagma square in central Athens, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020…
A man wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus walks in Syntagma square in central Athens, on May 5, 2020.
Even so, several Greek hoteliers remain wary of the corona corridor proposal.

On Crete, a hugely popular spot for U.S. and British vacationers, hotel owners are considering keeping resorts closed until authorities provide ironclad assurances to ensure their operation.

“We are not prepared to risk any human life for the sake of business and profit,” said Manolis Tsalakakis, president of the hotel owners’ association in Rethimon, a city on Crete’s northern coast, “but we need to be legally covered in the case that we do have an infection during holiday stays.”

“These are all parameters that have be in put in place before we even consider opening up for business again.”

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