ZAGREB (Reuters) – Already a favourite with summer holidaymakers, Croatia is now seeing a surge in visitors from Russia seeking COVID-19 shots.

The number of flights from Russia has increased in recent weeks and it’s not unusual to hear Russian spoken at vaccination centres in the capital Zagreb. Foreigners, like locals, can get vaccines for free in Croatia.

“Just this month we’ve had about 1,000 Russians who received vaccines. So far we have had altogether 4,908 foreign citizens here, most of whom are Russians,” said Neda Ferencic Vrban, who heads Zagreb’s biggest vaccination centre.

The Russian Express travel agency organizes vaccination trips to Croatia for Russians looking for a shot approved in the European Union.

“Demand is not just big, it’s avalanche-like and growing exponentially each day. We started offering these tours at the end of September. At first there were single bookings, but now we book up to 50 people a day,” said Anna Filatovskaya from Russian Express.

The trip includes flight, accommodation, medical insurance and a transfer to the vaccination centre. Prices start at 36,000 roubles ($500).

In Russia, a QR code proving vaccinated status can only be given to people who have received Russia’s Sputnik vaccine.

“We’re allowed to enter Croatia with Sputnik. I’d like now to have a booster dose with Pfizer so I can travel to Europe without quarantine or tests,” said Yuri from Moscow after taking a jab.

Most Russian visitors choose a weekend trip, but some also take in a visit to the coast or neighbouring Slovenia.

“It has nothing to do with not trusting the Russian vaccine. Sometimes there is a need to travel to Europe, so we had the idea of getting vaccinated in Croatia,” said Moscow resident Natalya Noks, now back at home after visiting Zagreb and Slovenia.

Russian Express expects interest in the vaccine trips to continue.

“People who need to travel to Europe and countries where the Sputnik vaccine has not been approved will search for a way to receive the required foreign jab,” said Filatovskaya.

(Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Dmitry Turlyun and Mikhail Antonov in Moscow; Editing by Giles Elgood)