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SUE WILSON

OPINION: ‘We’re still waiting to be reunited with family and friends’

Whether you’ve been put off travelling by the virus itself, or the anti-virus measures, the result is the same, writes Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson.

OPINION: 'We're still waiting to be reunited with family and friends'
Barmen and waiters have added cleaning to their list of skills and are wearing masks in the few places we don’t have to. Photo: AFP

The Covid pandemic has affected our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined at the start of this year. After several months of lockdown, our world started to open up again – albeit gradually – on June 21st, with the introduction of the “new normality”.

The impact on the tourism industry, the third largest contributor to the Spanish economy, has naturally been of great concern to the Spanish authorities. With travel proving inherently risky during the pandemic, expectations are of a record low tourist season. Furthermore, other countries – not least the UK – are quarantining travellers from Spain for up to 14 days. As a result, many people have decided their only option is to stay at home.

Before the UK opted to quarantine anyone landing from Spain, British tourists were already arriving in reduced numbers. Many were visiting family here, after a lengthy separation caused by the lockdown closing the borders. Those who were already visiting Spain when the UK government announced the new quarantine, with just a few hours’ notice, were caught by surprise.

They returned home, some earlier than planned, wondering if their 14 days self-isolation would be funded by their employers or from their own pocket. One thing was clear: the British government would not be paying for its own policy decision.

The quarantine resulted in many Brits cancelling their travel plans, whether they were heading from the UK to Spain or vice versa. Those of us wanting to fly off to see family were dealt another cruel Covid blow.

Many UK visitors to Spain were, and still are, comfortable with the stricter safety measures here and happy to abide by them. Many told their hosts they felt safer here than in the UK, where there was often a lack of social distancing and people wandering about without facial coverings.

While the rise in new cases in Spain is worrying, the number of daily deaths is relatively low when compared to the UK. The new measures introduced by the Spanish government should help control the spread of the virus.

However, the closure of music bars and nightclubs, the 1am closure of normal bars and restaurants and the ban on smoking outside hardly improve Spain’s prospects as a holiday destination.

Whether you’ve been put off travelling by the virus itself, or the anti-virus measures, the result is the same. More time away from family and friends, more personal sacrifices and more risk for the tourist and hospitality industries.

Under government guidelines, most hospitality businesses have made a massive effort to reopen.  Barmen and waiters have added cleaning to their list of skills and are wearing masks in the few places we don’t have to.

In many destinations, such as my hometown, it’s predominantly the tourists making the most of the bars, while many locals are reluctant to join them because of the perceived risk of infection. Many of us are waiting until the tourists have left before we venture too far afield, regardless of whether those visitors hail from Madrid or Manchester.

For the sake of the local economy, I hope we’ll soon overcome any lingering nervousness and start frequenting our local bars and restaurants. That, at least, is a decision we can make on our own. The decision to travel, especially to another country, may be taken out of our hands for some time to come.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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CHRISTMAS

OPINION: ‘Brits in Spain are giving up hope of spending Christmas with their UK family and friends’

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain considers the obstacles preventing many Brits from heading back to the UK for Christmas and asks whether it's a sacrifice we should all be prepared to make.

OPINION: 'Brits in Spain are giving up hope of spending Christmas with their UK family and friends'
Christmas lights at the Botanical Gardens in Madrid. Photo: AFP

As the UK approaches the end of its second lockdown, the government is considering measures to implement during December and – especially – over the Christmas period.

Many Brits residing in Spain have abandoned the idea of spending Christmas with their UK family and friends.

For those still considering travel, barriers have appeared with increasing regularity.

First, there was quarantine, then lockdown, then the prospect of requiring a negative PCR test before returning to Spain – all issues that have caused widespread flight cancellations.

Some areas of Britain will resume being in Tier 2 or 3, where visitors from other households are not allowed. If those hurdles aren’t enough, there’s the off-putting idea of potentially risking the health of our loved ones.

Regardless of our location, Covid measures will change the face of Christmas 2020.

How ‘Navidad’ will look in Spain remains unclear. We know that, in the UK, safety measures for December will be relaxed over the holiday season, with a five day “break” to allow three families or households to gather.

This strategy is already causing considerable concern across the UK, although the ‘Daily Express’ is enthusiastically billing it as Christmas being “saved”.

Non-Christians have complained that such measures were disallowed for their own religious festivals, such as Eid and Diwali. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were forced to dampen their usual social arrangements to prevent viral spread.

It’s hard to fault the logic that Christians should make a similar sacrifice for the national interest.  

Of course, the reasons for loosening the holiday period restrictions aren’t religious, unless it’s the worship of retail profit. Being popular has always been high on Boris Johnson’s priority list.

He doesn’t want to be labelled the Grinch that stole Christmas. If opinion polls are anything to go by, Johnson may have misjudged the mood of Britain. Clearly, many families are agreeing – for everyone’s health and safety – to keep apart during the festive season.

On the other hand, some people are jaded with Covid restrictions and plan to enjoy the relaxed rules, regardless of the dangers.

Lockdown does not come without cost – whether it’s mental health issues, a rise in domestic violence or simply wanting life to be “normal” again. Some people will feel frustrated and lonely. Many people, understandably, will follow the advice if the government says it’s OK.

Christmas has always been a special time for families to mingle and share traditions, and it is entirely normal for Brits to be fixated with December 25th.

However, nothing about 2020 has been normal. Our movements have been restricted, holidays cancelled, and livelihoods risked. Many people have been worried about their own and loved ones’ safety.

We’ve spent months without seeing our parents, children, siblings or grandchildren, and we all want our old lives back. However, remember that it’s just one Christmas. There will be many more to come!

Amazing progress has been made in the development of promising vaccines. We are a few months away from the protection against Covid that we dreamed about during the first lockdown. Is it worth taking a huge public health risk instead of waiting just a few short months?

Of course, it’s sad that our Christmas dining tables will have empty chairs.  What is sadder still is those empty chairs that will never be filled again thanks to this deadly virus.

The best gift we can give this Christmas is to keep our loved ones safe. Roast turkey on the beach next summer anyone?

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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