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Greece: Direct Ferries Again Connect Thessaloniki with Aegean Islands

Direct ferries connecting Thessaloniki Port with most Aegean islands will be launched.

The small islands run a new type of advertising campaign: all residents get vaccinated to attract tourists.

Travel agencies in Greece already sell tickets for direct ferries from Thessaloniki to the Aegean islands. After five years, the ferries from Thessaloniki to islands such as Mykonos, Chios, Lesbos, Samos and other Aegean islands were relaunched. The tourists who arrive in northern Greece via land borders and want to travel to the islands, may already use the new ferry connections from Thessaloniki.

Fares are relatively low. For example, for travelers from Thessaloniki to the island of Lymnos, for a 7-hour trip the price is EUR 23 per person EUR 62 for car transfer.

It is expected that many tourists coming by car and booking a holiday on the Aegean islands will use the ferries from Thessaloniki, tour operators say.


Bulgaria’s Tourism Sector Workers Stage Protest in Sofia

Representatives of the tourism industry will mount a protest in front of the Council of Ministers. They insist on state support for the sector suffering huge losses during the emergency situation. The key demands are a 5% reduction in VAT for tourism in the next two years, as well as an extension of the refund period for the prepaid but cancelled trips abroad, BNR reported. The organizer of the protest rally is the Future for Tourism Association.

According to the protest organizers, the measures so far taken to save the sector are insufficient and ineffective. Pavlina Ilieva, President of the organization, commented:

"Our demands are for clear and concrete deadlines within which the sums will be paid under the programs we have participated in."

BGN 69 million is necessary for subsequent financing and the establishment of a guarantee fund that will provide money to refund our customers for trips foiled due to the pandemic.

Repayment is due to begin after March 13.

"The guarantee fund will ensure the stability of our industry."

The Association of Bulgarian Tour Operators and Travel Agents (BTOTA) does not support the protest. They believe that this approach will generate inequalities in access to such state aid.

Dimitrina Goranova from the Management Board of BTOTA stated:

"Currently, the customers of certain tour operators will benefit, and then all tour operators will have to make contributions to the fund. A guarantee fund is usually set up in countries where the sector is stable.'



Cyprus Starts Easing Lockdown Stepwise, Airports Resume Work


As of today, the third phase of coronavirus relief is underway in Cyprus and the lockdown imposed in January will be gradually lifted. As of today, the country’s airways also resume flights and ground handling services at its airports and begin to admit foreign tourists, as Bulgaria in the category of "red alert" countries.

Today, students from the lycees and vocational training schools return to classrooms.

Music schools, educational centers and other institutions for after-school activities, indoor sports facilities, gyms, swimming pools, galleries are reopened.

High school students will resume in-person learning in two weeks, from March 16.

As of the same date, restaurants, cafes and other dining establishments will resume their work.

Until then, the restrictions on leaving home (twice a day by texting) and the curfew (9 to 5 a.m.) remain in place.

All those returning to their jobs today – teachers, school staff working at the other sites that are opening, must have a negative result of a rapid Covid-19 test. The tests are carried out free of charge within the framework of the national screening campaign organized by the Ministry of Health.

Easing restrictions and restarting more economic sectors will strengthen control on compliance with health requirements to prevent the spread of coronavirus. To that end, the government announced the recruitment of 260 unemployed as Covid inspectors with a salary of 1,000 euros.

Restrictive measures will be lifted stepwise, so as not to put at risk the good results achieved in the fight against the coronavirus, but also to give a breath of air to citizens and businesses, stressed Health Minister Konstantinos Ioannou.

In the last two weeks, about 30-40,000 tests per day have been made in the country, with positivity rate of only 0.5%.

As of today, according to the plan approved by the government, the gradual normalization of air transport work begins, with Cyprus opening up to foreign tourists and guests.

Nicosia began implementing the health risk assessment recommended by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, according to which countries are categorised into a "green", "yellow" and "red" groups.

Bulgaria is currently in the "red" category on the list of over 50 countries published by the Ministry of Health on Saturday. All arrivals from our country must have two negative PCR tests, made 72 hours before the flight and after landing on the island.

For the entry of our compatriots to Cyprus, two restrictions have been lifted, which were in force since August 1 last year – that they have a residence permit and remain in a two-week quarantine after arrival.

Resuming work at airports is extremely important for the tourism in Cyprus, its main economic sector, which in 2020 suffered a catastrophic 84% plunge in the number of tourists.


EU Leaders Agree on Introduction of Vaccine Passports by Summer 2021


EU leaders have agreed to introduce vaccine passports by the summer in a boost to Britons planning holidays on Europe's beaches.

Having suffered its deepest recession to date and still floundering on the rollout of its vaccination programme, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that 'everyone agreed that we need a digital vaccination certificate' programme during a virtual summit.

But Merkel admitted technical work on the vaccine 'passports' by the EU Commission would take three months to complete, meaning it would not be ready when Britain could start easing international travel restrictions in May.

It comes following pressure from southern European countries to have schemes in place to help safely kickstart their tourism-dependent economies.

Greece officials plan to have the country open by May, and want a scheme that will allow entry to people who have received both doses of an approved Covid vaccine.

The country's government is reportedly considering plans to open its borders to vaccinated Brits that month, which could put it in conflict with EU plans on foreign travel.

Spain has also been pushing for an EU-wide passport policy as the country is desperate to kickstart tourism. Its foreign secretary proposed that 'vaccine certificate holders could be exempt from taking a test'.

Austria has also called for an EU-wide 'green passport' which would allow people to go on holiday and 'enjoy gastronomy, culture, events and other things again'. 

The move has face resistance from 

countries - including France and Belgium - who are concerned that easing travel for people who have been inoculated would discriminate against others.

But their claims come as the EU vaccination scheme continues to stumble with just 6.2 vaccine doses per 100 people being given out versus 27 doses per 100 in the UK.

French scientists also say the country faces a new wave of severe cases in April and May - at the same time the UK expects to ease its restrictions after all over-50s have been vaccinated.

Although infection rates are heading down in about 20 EU member states, there are concerns about a third wave of coronavirus because of the variant first detected in Britain spreading rapidly in some countries. 

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that the British variant was present in 26 of the EU's 27 countries, the South African variant in 14 and the Brazilian in seven.

'There is growing COVID fatigue among our citizens,' she said. 'But we should not let up now. Not only does the situation remain serious in many parts of Europe but we must also watch for the new variants that are spreading.' 

One EU official gave a blunt assessment of the risks of opening up in the next few months - saying that the bloc wants to avoid 'a new death season'.

Yesterday the EU said it was on track to hit its target of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer although progress remains sluggish, while the global coronavirus death toll topped 2.5 million.

The milestone came as a new study showed Pfizer's Covid jab to be 94 percent effective, raising hopes for mass immunisation campaigns to help end the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, urged governments to try to better understand the long-term consequences of coronavirus on some sufferers, calling the impact of prolonged symptoms a 'significant' burden.

After a video summit of EU leaders focused on the bloc's vaccination roll-out against Covid-19, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said fully vaccinating just under three-quarters of adults by late summer was a 'goal that we're confident with'.

But EU leaders warned that tight travel restrictions must remain as the bloc stepped up 'efforts to accelerate the provision of vaccines', although it would take months, not weeks, to build enough vaccine supplies.




Bulgaria: Future for Tourism Association Insists on Setting up Guarantee Fund for Customer Indemnity

Tour operators from the Future for Tourism association are pushing for the creation of a guarantee fund, the purpose of which is to protect consumers in case of insolvency of the tour operator in case of  force majeure.

After March 13, companies will have to start paying their customers for the trips foiled because of the pandemic, but the state aid granted to tour operators, in their view, will not be enough for this. They point out that the difficulties stem from the fact that in the last year their activity has practically paralyzed and their revenue is almost zero.

A little over BGN 19 million are needed to reimburse clients, and almost BGN 14 million are not enough. A survey conducted by Future for Tourism among 102 companies shows that 60% of them state that 4% of the turnover for 2019, which is granted as state aid, will not be enough to cover the liabilities to customers.

The creation of a guarantee fund will bring stability in the industry and peace of mind for customers in the future, said Pavlina Ilieva - chairperson of the organization.

Bulgaria has the lowest costs among the countries of the European Union for anti-crisis measures as a share of the country's gross domestic product, according to the organization.

Because Bulgaria has not fully transposed the European Directive 2302 on group travel it is subject to sanctions, reminds Dimitar Baltov of the association. According to him, the fine will be several times higher than the amount needed to create a guarantee fund.

Germany Determined to Keep in Place Draconian Control Measures on Its Borders

Germany is extending strict checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province until March 3.

The checks were introduced on Feb. 14 in a bid to reduce the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants that have taken hold in those areas. Germany is limiting entry to its own citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

German border police have turned back thousands of people since the checks started.

The restrictions initially were imposed for a 10-day period. The Interior Ministry told news agency dpa Tuesday that they are being extended.

Germany has rejected criticism from the European Union’s executive Commission about the measures. Its minister for Europe, Michael Roth, on Tuesday rejected suggestions that Germany’s wasn’t keeping to EU law and said its actions are “in keeping with Schengen,” the rules of Europe’s passport-free travel zone.


UK Prime Minister: International Travel from England Banned until May 17 at Earliest

In its roadmap for easing restrictions, the UK government announced a review of travel which will report on April 12 with recommendations about how international travel should resume, while managing the risks of new variants of coronavirus.

"The government will determine when international travel should resume, which will be no earlier than 17 May," the government said in its statement.

Britain is looking at a system of allowing vaccinated individuals to travel more freely internationally, the statement added.

The announcement came as Johnson on Monday set out a phased plan on Monday to end England's lockdown, offering a "cautious" approach to try to prevent a return to wholesale restrictions that have hobbled the economy.

Johnson, under pressure to allow more freedoms to millions stuck at home and offer hope to shuttered businesses, said the first stage would prioritise schools returning on March 8 when only minimal socialising outdoors would be allowed.

The so-called roadmap will then pass through four stages, with five weeks in between, and the final step, when most restrictions will be lifted.

"There is therefore no credible route to a zero Covid Britain or a zero Covid world. And we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children," Johnson told parliament.

"And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap is cautious but also irreversible. We’re setting out on, what I hope and believe, is a one-way road to freedom."

With almost 130,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world's fifth-highest official death toll from the pandemic and its economy has seen its biggest crash in over 300 years.

With one of the strictest lockdowns and one of the world's fastest vaccine rollouts, the country may be seen as a test case for governments hoping to reopen economies and return life to some kind of normalcy.

Even with encouraging data after more than two months of domestic vaccinations released on Monday, the British government's cautious approach highlights how slow a process it will likely be for many countries.

Johnson said the fast start to the vaccine rollout plus a sharp fall in infections now allowed him to set out a cautious easing of England's tough national lockdown, which started on January 5.

As the plan unfolds, lawmakers will have a chance to vote on specific steps. Authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are responsible for their own public health, will also ease restrictions over the coming months.

The reopening of schools is expected to help the economy, freeing parents who have had to juggle work and home schooling.

However, any easing of social mixing will initially be limited and the government will ask people to work from home, where they can, for some weeks until it has completed a review into social distancing at some point before June 21.

A small number of people are expected to be able to mix outdoors at the end of March, but non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality will not reopen until April 12 at the earliest.

Most social contact rules will be lifted outdoors from no earlier than May 17, with all legal limits on social contact possibly being removed from June 21 at the earliest.

Johnson, who was treated in intensive care for Covid-19 last year, faces pressure from politicians in his Conservative Party to restart the economy but also from scientific advisers who fear a resurgence of the virus if he unlocks too quickly.

He has appeared more cautious in recent months than earlier in the pandemic, when he was widely criticised for his eagerness to reopen shops, restaurants, pubs and offices.

"We are in a not very good position, which is getting better," the government's top science adviser Patrick Vallance told reporters.

"The message that comes out of all of the modelling is ... get (infection) numbers down before you start releasing, go slowly, (and) go in blocks that you can measure the effect of after four or five weeks."

England's vaccine campaign is significantly reducing cases, with a drop of around 70 percent in infections among healthcare workers who have had a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, health officials said on Monday.

Britain moved faster than most countries to secure vaccine supplies and has been inoculating people rapidly since December, a strategy that has driven sterling and stock markets higher amid hopes of an economic rebound.


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