Spain’s tourist sector in isolation as Covid cases mount

Madrid Desk, Aug 25 (efe-epa).- European nations on Tuesday upheld and strengthened advice against travel to Spain, where coronavirus infection figures have rocketed since the end of the strict national confinement two months ago.

The summer season in Spain, the world’s second-most visited country last year, has been a resounding flop for a tourist sector that had pinned its hopes on the success of the so-called transition to a “new normality” following three months of lockdown, which expired in June.

Tourism accounts for some 12 percent of Spanish annual GDP.

Spain was one of Europe’s worst-hit nations during the early weeks of the pandemic, with thousands of infections and hundreds of deaths each day at the peak between March and April.

Spain once again leads European Union nations in terms of infection figures, with nearly 40,500 cases detected in the last week, equating to an infection rate of 85.8 per 100,000 people. In hotspots like Madrid, the capital, that figure stands at roughly 200 per 100,000 in the same period.

The United Kingdom, the main country of origin for Spain’s tourists, maintained its advice against all travel to the country as well as the requirement for all citizens returning to the UK to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The Netherlands updated its travel advice on Monday to place all of Spain, including the Canary Islands, on a travel warning list, a measure that obliges passengers arriving from Spanish territory to self-quarantine and recommends they take a PCR test.

Neighboring Belgium has extended its ban on all non-essential travel to several Spanish regions including Madrid, the Basque Country, the Balearic Islands and Barcelona, with returnees from other Spanish regions being urged to self-isolate for two weeks and get tested.

Germany and Austria similarly advise against all non-essential travel to Spain, but have exempted the Canary Islands, a popular tourist destination.

France recommends against travel to Catalonia and Aragon, but has no quarantine measures in place for those returning from those regions.

Spanish citizens can therefore still travel to France and Portugal, which border Spain to the east and west.

The Spanish and Italian health ministers spoke via telephone on Tuesday as part of efforts to coordinate Covid-19 containment measures.

Italy added Spain to its list of high-risk countries on 13 August, requiring anyone arriving from the country to undergo a coronavirus test. PCR testing is now available in Italy’s major international airports.

But some passengers arriving in the Italian capital Rome after 6pm found the screening centers to be closed and were directed to the drive-in testing units on offer at the city’s hospitals.

“We went with the whole family to drive-in and there was already a line of 300 vehicles,” Rocio, who arrived in Rome on Monday evening, told Efe.

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday held his first cabinet meeting on the situation since returning from his summer vacation.

“The evolution of the pandemic should be a concern to everyone,” he told a press conference. “We have managed to flatten the curve in worse and more dramatic situations than this. I’m confident that we can do it again if each and everyone of us acts responsibly.”

He ruled out declaring a national state of alarm, the mechanism that underpinned the draconian lockdown that lasted from mid-March to June, but said regional governments had the power to request a localized version if necessary.

He added that 2,000 members of the armed forces could be mobilized to help with regional contract-tracing systems.

Authorities in Spain’s 17 regions are currently in control of the Covid-19 response at a local level after the central government handed over the reins at the end of the state of alarm.

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