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‘Spain is a safe country’: Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?

The UK government's decision to remove Spain from a "safe" travel list, meaning returning holidaymakers face two weeks in self-isolation has caused anger and confusion in Spain where the tourism industry is already struggling.

'Spain is a safe country': Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?
AFP

“This decision is an absolute disaster for the recovery, there’s no other way to see this,” Angel Talavera, head of European Economics at Oxford Economics consulting, said on Twitter, referring to the British government's snap decision on Saturday. 

The government announced that from 11pm on Saturday anyone travelling from Spain, including returning holidaymakers, would have to self-isolate for two weeks.

That meant returning holidaymakers faced being unable to go back to work or see family members on their return.

London also advised against non-essential travel to mainland Spain.

The UK government insists the move was motivated by the need to prioritize public health. 

“We have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK. We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary,” a spokesman from the Department for Transport told the BBC.

The reaction from the Spanish government has so far been fairly muted.

When asked about the British government's decision to re-impose quarantine, a spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry said: “The government of Spain considers that the situation is under control. The outbreaks are localised, isolated and controlled. Spain is a safe country. We respect the decision of the UK government and we are in touch with them.” 

Apart from being a blow to the struggling Spanish tourism industry, which depends heavily on the millions British tourists who visit each year, the move has been met with some consternation in Spain where officials have insisted outbreaks are under control.

There's no doubt the number of cases of coronavirus have been on the rise in recent weeks.

Last Monday Spanish health officials reported that the infection rate had tripled in just over two weeks, from 8,76 per 100,000 inhabitants on July 3rd to 27,39 per 100,000 in recent days.

Albeit the pressure on hospitals remains low, according to officials.

On Friday Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that data from 10 regions showed a rise in cases and hospital admissions.

While many of the 283 active outbreaks were small and could be controlled the overall pattern is one of rising cases, the newspaper said.

But experts say the resurgence is partly due to people relaxing and not sticking to social distancing guidelines, but also due to greater testing capacity resulting in more positive cases being detected.

Catalonia has been affected and forced authorities to ask four million residents in Barcelona to stay at home. The north-eastern provinces of Lleida and Huesca have also seen spikes.

On Saturday Catalan authorities ordered nightclubs to close for two weeks and imposed curbs on bars and restaurants with young people and revellers being blamed for the spike in cases.

The regions of Aragon and Navarre have also seen spikes in cases.

But some parts of the country have been less affected by the resurgence including the southern region of Andalusia and the Balearic and Canary islands.

The fact that the UK government said it was not advising against travel to the Balearic or Canary islands, but would still impose quarantine on travellers returning from those regions, has understandably caused confusion.

Regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands say they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people travelling back from the archipelagos.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, the foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said Spain was one of the countries with the “most controls and mechanisms for identifying outbreaks”.

She dismissed suggestions of a second wave of Covid-19. “We’re not worried; we’re identifying cases and isolating them to cut off transmission,” she said.

“As long as we don’t have a vaccine or a treatment, this is what the new normality will be like. We ask citizens to comply with the restrictions and behave in a responsible manner. There isn’t a second outbreak but there are one-off outbreaks.”

The UK's decision has been met with surprise and dismay among British residents and tourists in Spain.

Michelle Baker, editor of the Round Town Times newspaper in Benidorm told The Guardian: “It's so unfair, we're all wearing masks here and there are only 14 cases on the whole of Alicante. The outbreaks are nowhere near here.”

Some British tourists also lamented the quarantine decision saying they felt safer in Spain than the UK.

“We’re quite frustrated by it to be honest, because it actually feels safer in Spain,” British tourist Carolyne Lansell told Reuters.

Rachel Pinnington, on holiday in Los Alcazares, Murcia said: “It feels perfectly safe here. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction by the government. Everyone is wearing masks. It's uncomfortable in the heat but I feel safe.”

In a bid to prevent new outbreaks fifteen out of Spain's 17 autonomous communities have now made face masks compulsory in all indoor and outdoor public spaces. Only Madrid and the Canary islands are not imposing the rule.

The central government, which insists that this is not a “second wave”, considers that the regions have sufficient tools to control the epidemic.

It has also ruled out the possibility of a new state of emergency, which allowed Madrid to impose a strict lockdown in mid-March which was not completely lifted until June 21.

The UK government has also come in for criticism back home.

“I can understand why the government have made this decision … but of course the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” said the Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking to Sky News.

Other countries have advised against travel to particularly regions in Spain with the French government urging its citizens not to travel to Catalonia. However it has not imposed any quarantine against returning travellers from Spain.

 

 

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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