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Spain continues to push for vaccine passports to reopen travel

Spanish tourism officials want the introduction of an internationally recognised Covid-19 immunisation document or the return of safe travel corridors to allow the country’s ailing tourism industry to recover.

Spain continues to push for vaccine passports to reopen travel
Photo AFP

Spain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto has reiterated her government’s commitment to seeing an internationally recognised Covid immunity passport or certification approved. 

“Spain will support any tool that facilitates the recovery of safe travel and mobility,” Maroto told journalists on Thursday, adding that she hoped Spain will be seen as “a country that’s open to the world” and with safe “tourism protocols”.

The 47-year-old minister argued that it’s impossible to give dates for the reopening of Spanish tourism and avoided saying whether she thought some measures would be in place to allow travel to Spain by Easter in late March and early April.

The focus for her government remains keeping the pandemic under control and for Spain’s vaccination campaign to work at full speed, she concluded.

But Spanish officials are well aware that the consequences of another summer without tourism would be catastrophic for the economy.

The Economy Ministry has drafted a report which not only looks at the possibility of a Europe-wide vaccination card, but also the return of the safe travel corridors that were in place previously.

The Spanish government is working in collaboration with the OECD and the European Commission for these measures to be approved by summer, but so far the World Health Organisation and the EU have rejected the possibility of an immunity passport.

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Spain is at least not alone in Europe in terms of wanting an immunity document to be approved, with Cyprus, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Greece all in favour of the measure.

Other EU states such as France and Romania consider the prospect of an immunisation passport discriminatory at this point as the vaccine is voluntary in most nations and the inoculation campaigns are still in the early stages.

The speed at which Spain vaccinates its population will be the main determining factor in terms of whether the summer tourism season is saved, but it could be that Pedro Sánchez’s government has to defend their desperate stance against more cautious EU regulators.

“Reaching immunity is a key milestone to generate confidence to travel,” Tourism Minister Maroto concluded, pointing out that a vaccine certificate could put an end to the need for current restrictions such as quarantine and compulsory PCR tests.

Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdés has said that while it was important that visitors are vaccinated to ensure safe travel, the prospect of imposing quarantine for tourists who haven't been inoculated is something his government “has never supported”.

Spanish tourism officials may at least find an ally in the UK, where immunity passports are currently being discussed as an option and where the rate of immunisation is higher than across the EU.

British tourists made up around 20 percent of foreign visitors to Spain in pre-pandemic times (more than 18 million in 2019) so their contribution could be essential to the recovery of Spain’s devastated tourism sector.

 

Member comments

  1. I hope something is done to introduce vaccine passports. By summer I will have had both my vaccinations, as will my partner, and we are badly missing our annual visit to Madrid.

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TOURISM

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
 
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.

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