ROME >> For travelers to Europe, summer holidays 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.

Since Sunday, visitors to Italy no longer have to fill in the EU Passenger Locator Form, a complicated online test required when checking in at the airport.

Italy has also 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 in Italy have also ended, including inside supermarkets, workplaces and stores. Masks are still compulsory on public transport, in cinemas and in all health establishments and retirement homes.

“It was necessary,” said Claudio Civitelli, a Rome resident having 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, all without a mask.

“It’s much better,” Bichler said. “Let’s say it’s a return to life, a free life.

In Greece, where tourism accounts for around 20% of its GNP, enforcement of the rules had already dropped before Sunday. On the tourist island of Mykonos, revelers flooded beaches, bars and restaurants the weekend before for the Orthodox Easter holiday. Some owners said business was the best they had seen in years and expected it to continue over the May Day long weekend.

Vaccination certificates in Greece were abolished, not permanently, but from May 1 to August 31 and it will be determined in August whether to restore them. Restrictions on the number of customers in indoor spaces have also been suspended. But masks are still needed indoors and in vehicles in Greece, and experts recommend using them outdoors in crowded situations like concerts.

Business owners said many unvaccinated people were among those benefiting from the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We saw some old customers that we hadn’t seen since November,” when vaccination certificates first became mandatory, Michalis Epitropidis, general secretary of the homeowners association, told The Associated Press. of restaurants, cafes and bars in Thessaloniki. “By punishing the unvaccinated, the state was punishing us.”

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, was a hotbed of activist vaccine refusals and protests over COVID-19 restrictions.

Like Italy, Greece saw tourism receipts dive in 2020 and only partially rebound in 2021. Greece is now hoping for a record tourism year in 2022 – as has neighboring Albania, where restrictions were also lifted on Sunday.

Public health officials say masks still remain highly recommended in Italy for all indoor activities, and private businesses can still require them.

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.