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Spain’s new low-cost high speed train launches with €5 offer after Covid delay

It was supposed to launch in time for Semana Santa last year but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, Spain's new low-cost, high-speed route between Madrid and Barcelona was stopped in its tracks long before its inaugural journey.

Spain's new low-cost high speed train launches with €5 offer after Covid delay
Spain's new low-cost high speed trains are called Avlo. Photo: Renfe

Now, a year since Renfe first offered cut price tickets on its brand new bright purple trains, the rail operator has a new date for the launch.

Named Avlo – presumably to reflect that they are a low cost version of the more upmarket Ave trains – the route will launch on June 23th.

The operator is offering cut price tickets of €5 for journeys between June 23rd until December 11th for those who book before January 31st.

And for those people who bought tickets last year for trips that they were never able to take, Renfe are offering the opportunity to swap them for new tickets at no extra cost.

Once the initial bargain offer is over the price will vary between €10 and €60 for the 621km (386 miles) journey between Madrid and Barcelona.

Ticket prices will be at least 25 percent cheaper than the current service between Madrid and Barcelona and would operate not from Barcelona-Sants station in the centre of the Catalan capital but from a new hub in El Prat de Llobregat, a satellite town near the airport.

The new trains will be easily noticeable as the streak across the countryside between Spain's two biggest cities as they have been painted in Renfe's signature purple colour. They also have a silver strip running along the top and are adorned with turquoise and orange decorative stripes. And the doors have been given a bright, Easyjet-style orange finish.

Renfe announced back in February 2018 that it was planning to launch this low-cost alternative to its fleet as a means of getting more Spaniards off the roads and onto the train tracks.

The initial route of the trains will be from Madrid to Barcelona, with five trains going in each direction every day.

Each train has a 20 percent more capacity than current AVE trains because they have taken out the Preferente carriage and the dining car.

The current AVE service hurtles between the two cities in under three hours reaching a speed above 310 km/h.

The route was inaugurated in 2008 and competes with flights between the two cities  but tickets cost an average of €98 each way, although cheaper deals are available to savvy travellers who book in advance.

The new budget service is designed to attract a younger generation who generally make the journey by coach, explained Spain’s transport minister when the route was announced.

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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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