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For travelers heading to Europe, the summer holidays have just become a lot easier.
Italy and Greece eased some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday ahead of Europe’s high summer tourist season, a sign that life is increasingly returning to normal.
Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it had repealed all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights, with the exception of wearing face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show evidence of vaccination, a negative test, or a recent improvement in the disease.
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According to a decree adopted by the Italian Ministry of Health, the country abolished the health pass required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other venues. The green passport, which showed evidence of vaccination, recovery from the virus, or a recent negative test, is still required to access hospitals and nursing homes.
Some indoor mask mandates also ceased, including inside supermarkets, workplaces and shops. Masks are still required in public transportation, in cinemas and in all health and elderly care facilities.
From Sunday, visitors to Italy will also no longer have to fill out the EU passenger search form, a complicated online test required at check-in at the airport.
“It was much needed,” said Claudio Civitelli, a resident of Rome who had his morning coffee at a bar near the Trevi Fountain. Until Sunday, guests had to wear a mask to enter bars and restaurants, though they could remove them to eat and drink. “We’ve been waiting more than two years.”
At a nearby table sat Andrea Bichler, an Italian tourist from Trentino Alto-Adige, with similar maskless friends.
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“It’s much better,” Bichler said. “Let’s say it’s a return to life, a free life.”
Public health officials say masks are still highly recommended for all indoor activities and private companies may still require them.
Even with the restrictions increasingly out of the way, public health officials called for caution, stressing that the pandemic was still not over. Italy reports 699 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and registers more than 100 deaths a day, with a total confirmed death toll of 163,500. But hospital capacity remains stable and below the critical threshold.
As the virus is still circulating, “we should continue the vaccine campaign, including boosters, and continue behaviors inspired by caution: wearing masks indoors or in crowded places, or where there is a risk of infection,” said Dr. Giovanni Rezza, in charge of prevention at the Ministry of Health.
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Italy was the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak when it registered the first locally transmitted case on 21 February 2020. The government introduced one of the toughest shutdowns and production shutdowns in the West during the first wave of the virus and maintained stricter restrictions than many other of its neighbors in subsequent waves.