For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier.
Italy and Greece relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday before Europe's peak summer tourist season, in a sign that life was increasingly returning to normal.
Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it was 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 were required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease.
Under a decree passed by Italy's health ministry, the country did away with the health pass that had been required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other venues. The green pass, which showed proof 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 ended, including inside supermarkets, workplaces and stores. Masks are still required on public transport, in cinemas and in all health care and eldercare facilities.
As of Sunday, visitors to Italy also no longer have to fill out the EU passenger locator form, a complicated online ordeal required at airport check-in.
“It was needed,” said Claudio Civitelli, a Rome resident who was having his morning coffee at a bar near the Trevi Fountain. Until Sunday, patrons had to wear a mask to enter bars and restaurants, though they could remove them to eat and drink. “We have waited more than two years.”
At a nearby table, Andrea Bichler, an Italian tourist from Trentino Alto-Adige, sat with similarly maskless friends.
“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 companies can still require them.
Even with the restrictions increasingly going by the wayside, public health officials urged prudence and stressed that the pandemic was still not over. Italy is reporting 699 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and is recording more than 100 deaths per day, with a total confirmed death toll at 163,500. But hospital capacity remains stable and under the critical threshold.
Given the virus is still circulating, "we should keep up the vaccine campaign, including boosters, and keep up behavior inspired by prudence: wearing masks indoors or in crowded places or wherever there's a risk of contagion,” said Dr. Giovanni Rezza, in charge of prevention at the health ministry.
Italy was the epicenter of Europe's outbreak when it recorded the first locally transmitted case on Feb. 21, 2020. The government imposed one of the harshest lockdowns and production shutdowns in the West during the first wave of the virus, and maintained more stringent restrictions than many of its neighbors in subsequent waves.