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EXPLAINED: What we know about Spain’s lockdown exit strategy

The government in Spain looks poised to extend lockdown beyond the current deadline of April 25th, possibly until May 10th. But is there a plan for lifting restrictions?

EXPLAINED: What we know about Spain’s lockdown exit strategy
Heathcare workers wearing face masks and protective suits acknowledge applause outside the Hospital de Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will appear before Spain’s parliament on Wednesday April 22nd to present his arguments for extending the lockdown another fortnight.

Where are we now with lockdown?

Monday saw Spain lift the total ‘economy hibernation’ measures that had been imposed on March 30th and allow workers in in certain key sectors – such as construction and manufacturing – to return to work, as long as social distancing measures could be applied.

But people in Spain are still confined in what is one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Residents are confined to their home except for specific reasons that include shopping for essentials, visiting the pharmacy or seeking medical treatment.

But apart from dog owners who are permitted to take their pets on short walks outside, people in Spain are not even allowed to go outside in public places to take any exercise.

Could people be allowed to take a walk outside?

A committee headed by Theresa Ribera,  minister for environmental transition and one of Spain’s deputy prime ministers, has pulled together experts head of different government divisions and representatives from each of Spain’s 17 regions to explore various scenarios for lifting lockdown when the time comes.

But beyond a few key ministers, the identity of those involved in the task force has not been revealed nor have the specific scenarios under consideration.

Spanish media are widely reporting, including El Pais, a newspaper close to the socialist government, that authorities are considering loosening lockdown measures somewhat and may allow people to leave the house for exercise and to take children outside for short periods of time before the lockdown is lifted completely.

Region by region?

One of the issues being brought to the table however is whether lockdown restrictions can be lifted at different times in different places, depending on how affected and to what extent the outbreak is under control in each region.

For instance, the Canary Islands seems to have the outbreak under control and the archipelago could maintain strict controls on entry but allow more freedom of movement around each island, some of which are close to being entirely free of coronavirus cases.

But the lifting of restrictions per region has so far been ruled out before the next lockdown deadline (of April 25) by Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska.

The data in the following tweet shows the huge disparity between regions when it comes to coronavirus cases and deaths. The final column shows the number of deaths per 100,000 people by region.

Gradual Normalization

One thing being discussed is a period of what has been dubbed ‘gradual normalization’ – or ‘normalización atenuada’ in Spanish- which involves staggering the relaxation of restrictions into two stages.

The first phase, according to Spanish media reports, which could last from the start of June until the end of July would see restrictions on travel within Spain itself and close monitoring of citizens.

It wouldn’t be until the second stage which would continue to the end of the year, that bars, restaurants and hotels could expect to open, according to a report in Spanish newspaper, 20 Minutos. 

Too early could provoke second wave of infections

Experts fear that governments will bow to economic and social pressure to lift their lockdowns prematurely, and warn that such a move could allow COVID-19 to return.

“Lifting the restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence,” warned World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week.

It is widely agreed three conditions must be met before it is even sensible to consider loosening lockdown restrictions. 

First, there would need to be an established decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in intensive care. This would give exhausted health workers a badly needed respite and allow hospitals to restock equipment and supplies.

The transmission rate of COVID-19 — the number of people an infected individual infects in turn — would need to have dropped below one, compared to 3.3 people at the start of the outbreak.

And finally there would need to be a sufficient number of masks to protect the populace and tests to closely monitor the virus's spread. 

Although Spain seems to have seen the peak in the coronavirus outbreak which is thought to have come on April 2nd, the country is still far from meeting the three prerequisites and still isn't close to having the capability for widespread testing and monitoring. 

READ MORE: 

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TRAVEL NEWS

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

Britons, Americans and other non-EU/Schengen travellers who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered from Covid-19 will not be able to visit Spain for tourism for at least another month, Spanish authorities have confirmed.

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel (including tourism) from most third countries for another month, until June 15th 2022.

That means that non-EU/Schengen adults who reside outside of the EU and who haven’t been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the illness in the past six months cannot go on holiday to Spain during the next month. 

Therefore, Spain continues to not accept negative Covid-19 tests from British, American, Canadian, Indian or other third-country nationals who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered. 

There had been hopes that the shorter two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel issued on April 30th, as well as talk of the “orderly and progressive reopening” of the country’s borders, would mean that unvaccinated third country nationals would be allowed into Spain in May.

But in the end, Saturday May 14th’s state bulletin confirmed that Spain will keep the same measures in place for another 31 days, stating that they “will eventually be modified to respond to a change of circumstances or to new recommendations in the context of the European Union”.

Spain’s ban on unvaccinated non-EU travellers is arguably the last major Covid-19 restriction in place in the country, and other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ireland are allowing unvaccinated tourists in.

This latest announcement by the Spanish government marks the umpteenth extension to non-essential travel from outside of the EU/Schengen area over the past two years of the pandemic, the previous one was due to expire on May 15th. 

But perhaps this extension is the most surprising, as the Spanish health ministry has modified its rulebook to treat Covid-19 like the flu and the country wants to recover the tourism numbers it had pre-pandemic.

The ban affects unvaccinated British tourists in particular, as the UK is still the biggest tourism market for Spain, but Britons’ non-EU status means they have to follow the same Covid-19 travel rules as other third-country nationals.

Vaccinated or recovered third-country travellers

Those who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 more than two weeks prior to travel to Spain will need to show a valid vaccination certificate with an EMA or WHO approved vaccine.

If their initial vaccination treatment was completed more than 9 months ago (270 days), they’ll need to show they’ve had a Covid-19 booster shot. 

As for non-EU/Schengen travellers who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, they will need to show a recovery certificate to prove this

According to Spain’s Health Ministry, recovery certificates accepted as valid are those “issued at least 11 days after the first positive NAAT or RAT, and up to a maximum of 180 days after the date of sampling”, as well as being issued by the relevant authorities.

Exceptions

In early February, Spanish authorities also decided to start allowing unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen teenagers aged 12 to 17 to visit Spain for tourism if they provided a negative PCR.

Spain continues to have a small list of low-risk third countries whose travellers visiting Spain for non-essential reasons can enter without having to present proof of Covid-19 testing, recovery or vaccination. 

This is updated weekly and can be checked here by clicking on the PDF under “risk and high risk countries/areas”. 

READ ALSO: Can I travel to my second home in Spain if I’m not vaccinated?

If you’re not vaccinated or recovered, the exceptions for travel to Spain from third countries that fall under the non-essential travel restrictions are:

  • You are a resident in the EU or Schengen country.
  • You have a visa for a long duration stay in an EU or Schengen country.
  • You work in transport, such as airline staff or are in a maritime profession.
  • You work in diplomatic, consular, international organisations, military or civil protection or are a member of a humanitarian organisation.
  • You have a student visa for a country in the EU or Schengen zone.
  • You are a highly qualified worker or athlete whose work cannot be postponed or carried out remotely.
  • You are travelling for duly accredited imperative family reasons.
  • You are allowed entry due to force majeure or on humanitarian grounds.
  • And as mentioned earlier in the article, if you have a vaccination certificate that Spain’s Ministry of Health recognises, as well as for any accompanying minors (unless they’re under 12 years of age).

READ ALSO: When do I need to fill out Spain’s Covid health control form for travel?

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