Spain ‘imports’ 104 Covid-19 cases from overseas despite travel restrictions

Despite the travel restrictions and safety measures in place at airports around the world, 104 passengers who landed in Spain in the past month have tested positive for Covid-19, most of them from the US and Latin America.

Spain 'imports' 104 Covid-19 cases from overseas despite travel restrictions
Photo: AFP

The news comes as Spain prepares to welcome tourists from Europe by July 1st (potentially earlier if an agreement is reached between Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his EU counterparts). 

The head of Spain's health emergencies' committee Fernando Simón told journalists on Thursday that most of the 104 people who tested positive upon arrival at Spanish airports were from the United States and Latin America that are still recording high daily infection rates.

The ‘imported’ Covid-19 cases represented between 10 to 12 percent of new infections in Spain since May 11th, Simon said.

At present, only Spanish citizens, legal residents and workers, those who have a cross-border job, or people from international organisations who have come to help with Spain’s Covid-19 pandemic are allowed in.

“Many people with residence in Spain have family in Latin America or the United States and may return to Spain soon,” Simón warned, while assuring that so far “the coordination between Spain’s regional governments, foreign health ministries and Spain’s health service is very good and that all the contacts of these imported cases are being detected”.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported on Thursday that 156 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours in the country, although the weekly trend remained stable with 245 cases and 32 deaths in the last seven days.

But the question of resuming flight routes with countries that are still struggling with a high Covid-19 infections rate remains, especially as summer is fast approaching and the country looks to get its all-important tourism industry back afloat.

The European Commission asked all EU countries on Thursday to reopen their borders to all EU citizens as of Monday, June 15th, a recommendation that was addressed in particular to Spain as it’s one of the countries that’s dragging its heels the most in this regard.

Despite pressure from Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has reiterated he will keep the quarantine of 14 days for people who arrive in Spain at least until July 1st . 

Regarding the arrival of British tourists to Spain – 18 million of whom visited the country in 2019 – the Spanish government has said it won't consider a travel corridor with the UK, preferring instead a common EU criteria when it comes to tourism agreements.

Q&A: What we know about travelling to Spain this summer


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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.