Tourists finally allowed to leave cruise ship in Barcelona after weeks in limbo

After five weeks without setting foot on land due to coronavirus restrictions, 168 passengers from a luxury Italian cruise ship disembarked in Barcelona on Monday, ending a highly unusual world trip.

Tourists finally allowed to leave cruise ship in Barcelona after weeks in limbo
The Costa Deliziosa docked at the port of Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Since the luxury liner set sail on January 5th from the northern Italian city of Venice on a round-the-world tour, not a single case of coronavirus has been found on board.

With some 1,800 passengers, the 12-deck Costa Deliziosa docked early Monday to allow Spanish passengers to disembark on its penultimate stop before heading back to Italy.

The 300-metre ship entered port after receiving the green light from Madrid, just days after French officials refused to let it disembark some 460 passengers at the southern port of Marseille.

“The boat has arrived. All the Spanish nationals have disembarked and are on their way home,” said a spokesperson for vessel owner Costa Cruises.   

Those authorised to leave disembarked in small groups and were bussed to the city centre, said an AFP correspondent who witnessed the vessel's arrival.

'It's a relief'

In a statement, the Spanish government representative in Barcelona said other European passengers had been offered the opportunity to leave with “other means of transport made available for them to reach their home countries”.

Among them was a French pensioner who said he had been advised to disembark in Barcelona.   

Passengers wearing face masks ride on a bus after disembarking from the Costa Deliziosa cruise ship at the port of Barcelona. Photo: AFP

“They told us that the French government had suggested we disembark here and that they would transport us to (the southern French city of) Montpellier,” Patrick Contini, 70, told AFP.    

“It's a relief. If we'd had to go to Genoa, it would have been a lot harder to get home,” said Contini, who lives in an area close to the Spanish border.    

The Costa Deliziosa is now heading for the northern Italian port of Genoa where it will dock on April 22nd and where all remaining passengers and the nearly 900 crew members will disembark, a Costa statement said.

The cruise liner's world tour was thrown into disarray by the coronavirus crisis which has seen multiple nations shuttering ports and closing borders in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

At the end of February, Costa cancelled all of the ship's planned stopovers in Asia.

The last time anyone was allowed to disembark was on March 14th when the ship was in Australia, but since then no-one has set foot on land although the vessel has made a number of technical stops.

By AFP's Daniel Bosque

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.