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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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Member comments

  1. Is it not the case that the reverse rule – EU nationals visiting the UK is 180/360 ? One hopes some common sense may prevail.

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COVID-19

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.

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