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Hungary forges travel pact between a dozen nations

Hungary forges travel pact between a dozen nations

A partnership put together by Hungary to mutually recognise vaccine certificates has expanded to 12 countries. Cyprus is the latest to join the group to allow free travel.

Thanks to vaccination programmes, various travel corridors, blocs and bans are forming, often driven as much by politics as science. Several EU member states are trialling the bloc’s Covid-19 passport, which is due to become valid across the EU from July 1.

However, the alternative bloc led by Hungary has attracted Serbia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Turkey, Bahrain, Mongolia, Georgia and Moldova. The seven that are not EU states are also not on the green list of countries from which travellers are permitted to enter the EU.

Announcing the agreement with Cyprus, Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian foreign minister, said that Budapest was in talks over vaccination recognition deals with “many other countries”.

Hungarians travelling to Cyprus must fill out an online form two days before their trip, uploading a copy of their vaccine certificate, and will not have to present a negative test result, whichever vaccine they have received. Hungary was the only EU member to opt out of a deal to procure 1.8 billion Pfizer-BioNTech jabs over two years, and was the first EU state to buy the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, has been moving closer to Russia while openly flouting European rules.

Slovakia, an EU member, has also procured the Sputnik vaccine, although Igor Matovic, its prime minister, was forced to stand down in March after it emerged that he had done so without consulting his coalition partners.

Serbia, Montenegro and Moldova have bought Sputnik jabs, and Turkey and Bahrain have signed deals with Russia to produce the vaccine locally. The Kremlin has been sending the vaccine to the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it annexed from Georgia in 2008.

Russia appears to be using its tourist clout for diplomatic ends. It has barred all flights to Turkey until the end of July, officially due to the pandemic but also in apparent retaliation for Ankara’s armed drone sales to Ukraine. Russians are the most important tourist market for Turkey, with seven million of them visiting in 2019.

Turkey and Serbia established bilateral recognition of their vaccine certificates last month. Turkey has struck a similar deal with Greece.

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