When will it be possible to travel to Spain again?

When will it be possible to travel to Spain again?
All Spain's beaches are currently closed until further notice. Photo: AFP
Spain has been under strict lockdown since March 14th and virtually all travel to the country is now impossible - but when are these restrictions likely to be lifted? Here's what we know so far.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Saturday that lockdown would be extended until May 10th, at the very earliest.

But he did concede that from April 27 there would be one big change; children who have hitherto been confined indoors will be allowed on short walks outside the home.

But when can things expect to return to some normality in Spain? And when will tourists be able to visit again?

There is very little official guidance on this issue and lots of speculation. Many readers have been asking this question and while we don't have a clear answer, here’s what we know so far.

Any relaxing of the rules is likely to be very slow and gradual and there has been much talk of lifting lockdown restriction in terms “phase one” and “phase two”.

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 they have yet to report their recommendations.

It may be that they decide that restrictions can be lifted in some regions, cities or even municipalities earlier than others, depending on the scale of infections in that zone.

What is clear though is it is going to be quite a while before we can expect normality to return to the tourism industry which accounts for some 12 percent of Spain’s GDP and employs 13 percent of its workforce.

Spain's Employment minister talked on Sunday about two stages of reactivation of Spain’s economic sectors, explaining that “phase one” of gradual normalization would likely last over the summer months with ”phase two” continuing until at the end of the year.

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Police are checking reasons for people to be on the road. Photo: AFP

“Phase one will cover the manufacturing sectors over the summer and another that will last until the end of the year and that would affect sectors such as tourism, culture and leisure,” she warned.

Without detailing what either would involve,  she warned that Spain couldn’t expect “normality” to return until at least Christmas – Spanish media speculate that this means restaurants, bars and hotels could remain closed throughout “phase two”.

“Sectors such as tourism, culture, leisure, catering and air/maritime can expect to face enormous difficulty,” she warned.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister María Jesús Montero, emphasised that “Spain will not start tourism until it is extraordinarily safe”, an approach that again lowers expectations away from summer.

The tourism sector is pessimistic about normality returning anytime soon and certainly not in time for the summer season.

Exceltur, the employer's association of the tourist sector, warns that the sector will see devastating losses in 2020 estimated to be around €124 billion, which is a whopping 81.4 percent drop on last year.

Jordi Mestre, the president of an association that represents Barcelona’s hotels told La Vanguardia newspaper: “For most of our sector we have to accept the summer season is lost. We don’t expect to return to normal for 12 months from (lockdown) activation.”

Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto has also said the government cannot yet determine when the borders would be reopened, saying it will depend on how “the health crisis evolves” but warned that social distancing would be imposed even on beaches.

“It is very important that we continue to follow health recommendations, we must keep up what we are doing now, washing our hands, keeping social distance…even on the beach,” she added when asked if access to beaches would be limited once the lockdown ends.   

“Until there is a vaccine nothing will be the way it was before. Gatherings will have to have limitations to maintain an adequate safety distance,” she added.

So what's the situation in Spain at present?

At the moment – and this will continue until at least May 10th – travel into and within Spain is heavily restricted.

Its land borders are closed and only those officially resident in Spain, or coming with very good reason, are allowed to enter.

Although the airports are actually still open there are very few international flights, after a long list of airlines cancelled some or all of their flights to Spain.

Spain joined the rest of the EU in mid-March in restricting all non-essential travel from outside the the EU and the Schengen Zone – although the UK is exempt from this.

This travel restriction will stay in place until at least May 15th.

“We invite EU countries to prolong the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until 15 May,” read a statement from the EU Commission.

“While we can see encouraging first results, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to continue reducing the spread of coronavirus.”

Cruise ships are banned from offloading passengers at Spanish ports unless they receive permission from the Spanish government.

And movement within Spain itself is restricted. Drivers can expect to encounter police roadblocks in and around towns and cities.

If for example you are caught trying to travel from your main residence to a second home, you will be issued with a penalty fine of €1,500.

Most Intercity and high-speed trains in Spain have been cancelled, and local public transport within cities runs on a reduced schedule.

Can I travel to my holiday home in Spain?

People are only allowed to travel to or within the country for emergency and health reasons, or for work if it is considered essential.

But there is an exemption for people returning to their place of primary residence, so if you happened to be out of the country at the time of lockdown you should be able to return to your Spanish home if you have the right paperwork – which means your NIE or foreign resident’s card. A padron certificate or household bill is NOT considered proof of residency.

And it doesn't apply to those with holiday or second homes in Spain. In fact those caught travelling to a second home are liable to be fined €1,500 if caught.

However travellers will continue to be allowed to leave Spain although there are few scheduled flights now operating and if travelling includes driving through France you will need to have the correct paperwork.

Are there any restaurants or hotels open?


An empty restaurant in San Sebastian. Photo: AFP
 

In March Spain ordered the closure of all hotels and short term lodgings that couldn’t provide facilities for guests to follow the strict rules of lockdown.

However the government guaranteed that some facilities across Spain would remain open to provide emergency accommodation for people in transit for legitimate reasons.

A list of authorised hotels can be found here.

Only those restaurants that provide takeaway and delivery are allowed to stay open under the regulations as long as staff can conform to social distancing and hygiene measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

When is this going to end?

All we can currently say with certainty is that lockdown will remain in place until May 10th although there is a possibility that it could  be extended once again.

Authorities have said that lockdown measures which have been in place since March 14th are working and Spain has passed its peak of infections and has been successful in “flattening the curve”.

What is clear is that the lifting of lockdown will be a gradual process, starting with allowing Spain’s children (who have been kept inside since March 14th) to accompany their parents on short walks from April 27th.

The government is under increasing pressure to lift restrictions to allow adults the opportunity to go outside and exercise, something that is permitted in other countries during lockdown.

Authorities have insisted that  they will lift the measures step by step after closely evaluating what impact of increasing freedom of movement has on the pandemic.

But when the country will once again be open for business and again welcome the hordes of tourists to its shores is anyone’s guess.

Can I travel to Spain after May 10th?

In short, it looks unlikely. And it also depends on where you're coming from.

The current ban on travel from outside Europe's Schengen area will remain in  place until the EU as a whole makes a decision to lift it.

It's not yet known how long this ban will remain in place, but French President Emmanuel Macron suggested it could be September, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned people not to book summer holidays.

European leaders are very concerned about the situation in countries including the United States, which now has a higher Covid-19 death toll than Italy and Spain. They also fear the possibility of a second wave of infections in Asia.

What about travel to Spain from within Europe after May 10th?

This is even less clear at this stage.

The Spanish government hasn’t given any hint at what restrictions will be lifted yet. so it's unknown whether that will include relaxing travel restrictions at this stage.

Airlines continue to suspend flights to Spain, and are not likely to resume their usual schedules until demand for tickets is high enough.

It is not yet known if Spain will in future put any restrictions on visitors arriving from certain countries. There is particular concern about the UK, which has recorded the highest daily death toll in Europe..

See all of The Local's reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Spain HERE


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