By NICOLE WINFIELD – Associated Press
ROME (AP) — For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacation just got a whole lot easier.
Italy and Greece eased some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday ahead of Europe’s peak summer tourist season, a sign that life is increasingly returning to normal.
Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority has announced that it is lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights, except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers had to present proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease.
Under a decree passed by the Italian Ministry of Health, the country abolished the health pass that was required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gymnasiums and other places. The green pass, which showed proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent negative test, is still required to enter hospitals and nursing homes.
Some indoor mask mandates have also ended, including inside supermarkets, workplaces and stores. Masks are still mandatory on public transport, in cinemas and in all healthcare and elderly care facilities.
Since Sunday, visitors to Italy also no longer have to fill in the EU Passenger Locator Form, a complicated online test required when checking in at the airport.
“It was necessary,” said Claudio Civitelli, a Rome resident who took his morning coffee at a bar near the Trevi Fountain. Until Sunday, customers had to wear a mask to enter bars and restaurants, although they could remove them to eat and drink. “We waited more than two years.”
At a nearby table, Andrea Bichler, an Italian tourist from Trentino-Alto Adige, sat with friends also without a mask.
“It’s much better,” Bichler said. “Let’s say it’s a return to life, a free life.
Public health officials say masks still remain highly recommended for all indoor activities and private businesses may still require them.
Even with the restrictions increasingly being dropped, public health officials have urged caution and stressed that the pandemic is still not over. Italy reports 699 cases per 100,000 people and records more than 100 deaths per day, with a total number of confirmed deaths of 163,500. But hospital capacity remains stable and below the critical threshold.
Given that the virus is still circulating, “we must continue the vaccination campaign, including reminders, and maintain a behavior inspired by caution: wearing masks indoors or in crowded places or wherever there is a risk of contagion,” said Dr. Giovanni Rezza, in charge of prevention at the Ministry of Health.
Italy was the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe when it recorded the first locally transmitted case on February 21, 2020. The government imposed one of the most severe lockdowns and production stoppages in the West during the first wave of the virus, and maintained stricter restrictions than many of its neighbors in subsequent waves.
Francesco Sportelli contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
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