ANALYSIS: We need to get used to idea of spending Christmas in Spain this year

Right now it seems many international residents in Spain are locked in what you might call the mince pie dilemma, writes Graham Keeley in Barcelona. Travel restrictions in Spain and around Europe mean most foreigners won't make it home for Christmas this year.

ANALYSIS: We need to get used to idea of spending Christmas in Spain this year
This is the year to embrace Spanish Christmas traditions. Photo: AFP

Dear reader, if you are not British or Irish, perhaps best skip the next few paragraphs as these tasty morsels may not mean much to you.

But what it comes down to is something like this: Should you try to figure out a way to head back to the home country to see loved ones this Christmas or try to make the best of things here in Spain?

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

And as we all know, mince pies are as essential a part of Christmas as the Nativity scene or turkey.

So do you risk all and head for home where mince pies are sure to be on the menu or forage for them here?

Among the foreigners I know in Spain, plans for the festive season seem to be the main point of conversation right now.

Anyone who still entertains hopes of trying to get home for Christmas faces a series of hurdles.

Travelling at this period of the year is complicated enough in normal times.

However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding a flight seems a major headache.

EasyJet cancelled our flights to London which was not a surprise, given the dire state of the airline industry.

From anecdotal evidence, many others are finding it tough to find flights or simply blanch at the huge cost of the few which are available.

If you strike lucky and manage to book a journey home, then that may be only the start of your odyssey.

Not only do you have to go into quarantine for up to 14 days when you arrive in the UK from Spain but when you come back you will need a negative PCR test result taken 72 hours before you leave British soil.

Then there is the Boris factor to consider.

The British prime minister has suggested that the country may allow families to meet up for five days then, to compensate, the country will have to shut down for weeks after.

However, scientists have warned that allowing families to get together over the festive season may cause thousands of COVID-19 infections and even deaths in the New Year.

If, like me, you have given up hope of going home for Christmas, then there is of course a lot of preparation to be done.

Apart from tracking down mince pies or learning how to make them (tricky), you will have to  source many of those other delicacies which make the festive experience what it is.

Brandy butter is as easy as cooking the turkey. But if you can prepare a Christmas pudding, you are a better man – or woman – than I.

Then do you invite fellow COVID-19 refugees round for Christmas dinner? I leave that one to you. 

But do not get me wrong, after the year we have all had, most of us would love to be going home this Christmas.

I have not seen my family since last Christmas but at least they are in fairly good health.

Others have lost relatives to COVID-19 or because other ailments but could not return home to say their last goodbyes. Perhaps we all know someone in that position.

So, after a year which has possibly been the worst anyone can remember, we could all have really done with sharing some quality time with the ones we care most about.

It means that whatever way we try to soften the blow of not going home, we will all miss people we have not seen for what seems like ages.

However, maybe it is the moment to be patient.

Some, like Madrid's regional authorities, have put out rather blunt warnings of what might happen if in our haste to meet loved ones we forget masks and other means of protection.

Contrasting a picture of a woman with a coffin, the Madrid advertisement reads:

Family meeting without protection, bury your grandmother.

Not subtle but it might put some off dashing home and just possibly putting elderly relatives at risk.

However, a few green shoots of hope have emerged in the past few weeks.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have over 90% reliability, according to their manufacturers, and could be available early next year.

Sceptics have said despite the forecast of many  governments, it may take longer to roll out these game changers.

But it does not stop us all hoping all this will be over at last.

Cheers to the end of COVID-19!



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley






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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.