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What changes this month in Spain?

From coronavirus restrictions to cancelled celebrations and changes to card payments, these are the changes to daily life in Spain that take place in February 2021.

What changes this month in Spain?
Photos: AFP

More restrictions on travel from outside the EU

From Wednesday February 3rd Spain has restricted travel from Brazil and South Africa with only citizens and legal residents of Spain being allowed to fly in from those destinations. Read more here

Spain has adopted measures in line with EU recommendations which means there are effectively no restrictions on those travellers arriving in Spain from EU/ EEA countries providing that those who travel from a country classified as a high risk country present a negative PCR , TMA or LAMP test.

But the list of high risk countries currently includes the majority of the countries in the EU/EEA. 

In addition Spain has banned all travel from the UK except for those returning Spanish citizens or those with legal residency in Spain who can show either an EU residence certificate or a TIE.

READ MORE: Spain extends ban on travellers from UK (with exemption for residents)

For travellers coming from countries outside of the EU, Spain is following the guidelines set by the EU which has opened up its external borders only to places on its regularly revised 'safe' list.

More coronavirus restrictions in Andalusia, especially in Malaga

Andalusia’s regional government is keeping in place in February the restrictions on mobility which were implemented on January 15 after infections soared over Christmas.

From Wednesday February 3, the border closure of 541 municipalities in Andalusia has been extended given their infection rate of more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days.

Non-essential shops, bars and restaurants will have to carry on closing their doors at 6pm (home delivery is possible until 10.30pm) , except in municipalities with an infection rate below 500/100,000.

The limit on gatherings in Andalusia will still be four people in February, including at bars and restaurants, and the curfew will still be between 10pm and 7am.

From Wednesday February 3, non-essential shops in Malaga will have to remain completely closed as authorities in the coastal city try to lower the current infection rate of 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants recorded over the last 14 days.

The city of Almería and the town of Dos Hermanas near Seville will also have the same restrictions as Malaga during February.

Madrid to allow more people at bar terraces

Madrid will increase the number of people allowed per table at bar and restaurant terraces from four to six, starting on Friday February 5.

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso has also promised the capital’s struggling hospitality industry that as soon as the infection rate is reduced, the curfew in the capital will be pushed back to midnight and that bars and restaurants will be able to stay open until then. 

Valencia ramps up Covid-19 restrictions until February 15

Valencia’s government has extended the shutdown of the region’s hospitality industry (only takeaways allowed) until February 15, as it tries to control a coronavirus infection rate which has reached a regional record of 1,400 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Valencia has also extended the closure of its regional borders until February 15 as well as closure of municipal borders for the next two weekends in Valencia, Alicante, Elche, Castellón, Torrevieja, Torrent, Orihuela, Gandia, Paterna, Benidorm, Sagunto, Alcoi, Sant Vicent del Raspeig, Elda-Petrer and Vila-rea.

From February 1, it is also compulsory to wear a face mask for walks on city beaches, swimming pools and natural spaces as well as to do sport outdoors in urban areas.

Non-essential shops will have to close their doors at 6pm.

Gyms, saunas, spas, Turkish baths and similar establishments in the region will also be closed until at least February 15.

Meeting up at home with people who you don’t live with will continue to be prohibited, whereas in outdoor public spaces only two non-cohabiting people can meet up.

Catalonia likely to keep same restrictions throughout February

Catalan Secretary General of Health Marc Ramentol on Monday stated that the majority of current mobility restrictions in place in the region until Sunday February 7 are likely to be extended past that date.

Catalan regional health authorities on Thursday announced that they would slightly loosen restrictions from Monday February 8.

Previously prevented from moving outside their municipality except for good reasons, from Monday Catalonia residents will be able to move freely within their comarca (or county) but not beyond.

Opening hours for bars and restaurants have also been extended with table service offered from 7.30am until 10.30am and 1pm until 4.30pm at lunchtime.

All establishments must still remain closed in the evenings except for take-away and delivery services.

Restrictions have also been loosened to allow political campaigning as the region heads to the polls on February 14th.

Gyms will also be able to reopen, though at a reduced capacity of 30 percent.

Other measures remain in place including a cap on social gatherings of six people maximum from two households.

The regional border remains closed. 

This includes the municipal border closures in place, the curfew from 10pm to 6am and the closure of shops and restriction for bars over the weekends.

Millions more vaccines for Spain

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias recently told journalists that in February Spain will receive a total of 2.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines during the month of February, both Pfizer’s and Moderna's , as well as potentially the AstraZeneca vaccine as well.

Pharmacies in Madrid can now carry out Covid testing

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso will allow pharmacies in the Spanish capital to offer coronavirus tests to the public from Thursday February 4.

Staff at around 50 pharmacies in Madrid have so far received training to carry out antigen tests, offering Madrileños another choice other than health centres in terms of getting tested for coronavirus.

Cancelled carnivals

February usually marks the start of ‘los carnavales’ in cities such as Sitges, Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, festivities which on a normal year would see hundreds of thousands of people dress up and take to the streets to party for a week.

Logically, authorities in all the Spanish cities which celebrate this wild and colourful festival announced months ago that their 2021 carnivals will not be taking place. Let’s hope that by this time next year, carnival in Spain will again be possible. 

Changes to card payments

From February 1 2021, people using their debit or credit cards in Spain and in the rest of the EU will start to be asked to complete a two-step authentication process for payments over €30.

This EU regulation in theory means that from now on customers paying by card both online and in stores have to identify themselves with at least two of the following options: a password, a coordinate card or a code that the user has on their phone or a biometric sensor (fingerprint or facial recognition).

The two-factor authentication process is supposed to provide shoppers with more security against fraud and theft.

The stricter security regulations are expected to be in full effect by March 15th. 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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