The Spanish government is trying to convince the United Kingdom to exclude the Balearic and Canary Islands from the quarantine decreed for travellers returning from Spain from Saturday July 25th.
Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya said on Sunday that these two regions, being insular territories, are “very controlled” and stressed that their epidemiological data is far more reassuring than the UK’s or that of Catalonia, Aragón and Navarre.
“Our efforts right now are centred on ensuring that the British authorities exclude the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands from their quarantine measures,” González Laya reiterated.
The Spanish government’s argument may have influenced the decision by Europe’s largest operator TUI to continue flying to the Canaries and the Balearics on Monday, after it announced on Sunday it would cancel all its flights to Spain until August 9th (the cancellation remains in place for mainland Spain).
The operator said it was in contact with Britain's Foreign Office “to understand” why the government has introduced quarantine measures for all of Spain, when its travel advice is less stringent for the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands.
“We believe regional travel corridors need to be considered,” it said in a statement.
“The UK Government must work closely with the travel industry as this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”
“It makes no sense that they quarantine when they return from the Canaries,” argued Canary President Angel Victor Torres, adding that the islands’ Covid-19 infection rate of 5.8 per 100,000 inhabitants is lower than in most European countries and more specifically in the UK (14.7 per 100,000).
There have been seven outbreaks in the Canary Islands since Spain ended its state of alarm on June 21st, all of which have been declared under control and most of which originated from the arrival of migrants on clandestine boats from Africa.
Out of a population of 2.1 million, there are currently 185 people infected with Covid-19 in the Canary Islands, seven of whom are hospitalised and one who is in the ICU.
“The British government has to understand that all of Spain isn’t the same,” Mallorca’s president Catalina Cladera said in reaction to the announcement.
Her message was echoed by the Balearic Islands' Health Minister Patricia Gómez, who said the islands’ infection rate has nothing to do with “the very complicated situation in Catalonia, Aragón and Navarre” in northern Spain.
The archipelago's regional president Francina Armengol even went as far as saying that “British tourists would be safer here in the Balearics than back home in the UK”.
There are 122 people infected with the coronavirus in the Balearics currently, 17 patients who have been hospitalised and 4 who are in the ICU.
The Mediterranean archipelago's cumulative infection rate for the past week is 8 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Both regional governments are holding “intense diplomatic negotiations” with the UK and Spain’s national government in the hope of agreeing on a travel corridor as soon as possible.
But for the islands’ hotel groups, the damage has already been done to their all-important tourism industries.
“We’re in shock, the UK’s quarantine decision could be the final blow for us,” Victoria Lopez, vice-president of Tenerife hotel association Ashotel, told local daily Diario de Avisos.
Nineteen million British tourists visited Spain in 2019, spending €18 billion during their holidays.
They represent the most important market for Spain's tourism industry, which in pre-Covid times accounted for almost 15 percent of the country's GDP and provided 2.8 million people with work.
Valencia region’s president Ximo Puig has also requested that the travel corridor include his autonomous community, especially the Costa Blanca and Alicante, given the lower number of cases in the Mediterranean region and its popularity among British holidaymakers. According to Spanish health ministry data, the Valencia region's infection rate is 9.4 per 100,000.
Andalusian authorities announced on Monday they would also request to be included in the travel corridor plans, given their infection rate of 7.1 per 100,000.
Spain's cumulative coronavirus rate has been growing in recent weeks, but with large regional disparities.
Serious coronavirus outbreaks in Catalonia (63.1 per 100,000), Aragón (160.1 per 100,000) and Navarre (79.2 per 100,000) have pushed Spain's average up to 39.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than France's rate of 14.6, Germany's 7.7 and the UK's 14.7 (data from European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control).
Cumulative rates are considered more accurate than absolute numbers by epidemiologists as they consolidate the data and iron out daily spikes or drops which don't necessarily relate to the transmission of the virus.