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LIFE IN SPAIN

What changes about life in Spain in March 2021

March 2021 will bring with it updated travel bans, changes to daily regional restrictions and the start of the Easter holidays. Here's what you need to know about the month ahead.

What changes about life in Spain in March 2021
Photos: STR, José Jordan, Fred SCHEIBER/AFP

More international travel restrictions

Travellers from countries outside the Schengen Area will not be able to make non-essential journeys to Spain until March 31st.

However, travellers from some countries with low infection rates will be able to make the journey, including those from Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, China and the regions of Hong Kong and Macao.

The Spanish government has also extended its travel ban on flights from the UK, South Africa and Brazil (except for Spanish nationals and residents) until March 16th to contain the new strains of coronavirus in those countries.

Spain and Portugal’s border closure has also been extended until March 16th.

Eased regional restrictions

Aragón, the Valencia region, the Balearics and the Canary Islands are among the Spanish regions that will ease their regional restrictions in March, a move which has led some epidemiologists to call for caution.

“In this country we are world champions in stumbling over the same stone and in the face of any good news, people push for restrictions to be eased and relaxed too quickly,” epidemiologist Quique Bassat has said in response.

The easing of restrictions over the Christmas period is widely blamed among scientists for having caused a spike in infections which caused the third coronavirus wave in Spain.

You can find out in more detail what the restrictions are in your part of Spain here.

Clocks move forward an hour

In the early hours of Sunday March 29th the clocks will be put forward an hour in Spain, spelling the beginning of the summer schedule.

In 2019 EU Member States voted on whether to stop changing the clocks after 2021; Spain is yet to decide whether to stick to the summer or winter schedule. 

Changes to EU energy labelling of appliances

“To help EU consumers cut their energy bills and carbon footprint, a brand new version of the widely-recognised EU energy label will be applicable in all shops and online retailers from Monday, March 1st 2021,” the European Commission detailed on its website.

“The new labels will initially apply to four product categories – fridges and freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, and television sets (and other external monitors). New labels for light bulbs and lamps with fixed light sources will follow on 1 September, and other products will follow in the coming years.”

Vaccine campaign moves into third gear

The Spanish government has set itself the target of vaccinating 80 percent of its population above 80 years of age by the end of March.

Spain’s Health Ministry also hopes to double its vaccine supply from February’s 4 million doses to 8 million during March, with the arrival of the soon-to-be approved Janssen vaccine likely to allow for this.

Spain has tripled the speed at which it’s inoculating its population and currently administers around 150,000 doses a day. 

The goal is for 70 percent of Spain’s 47 million peope to be vaccinated by the summer.

Controversial Women’s Day protests

March 8th marks International Women’s Day in Spain, a date which has been marked by large demonstrations in recent years calling for more action against gender violence, equal pay and other important causes.

However, with the pandemic far from being under control in Spain and restrictions on large gatherings still in place, Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended that these street marches don’t take place this year in order to avoid the “high risk” of infections.

Feminist groups have defended their right to protest, arguing that if other demonstrations such as anti-mask or anti-vaccine marches have been allowed to go ahead, theirs should as well.

Numerous marches have been called across cities in Spain, so you can expect the controversial matter to make headlines across Spain in March.

State aid for struggling self-employed and SMEs

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pledged an extra €11 billion ($13.4 billion) to help struggling companies and the self-employed cope with the fallout of the pandemic, a sum which is set to be approved in early March and released to those who request it as soon as possible.

Easter holidays and other important dates

Easter, or Semana Santa as it’s called in Spain, officially starts on Sunday March 28th and ends on Sunday April 4th.

It’s a week that’s usually dominated by religious processions and huge gatherings in the streets, but this year as could be expected, all Easter celebrations in Spanish cities and towns have been cancelled.

Technically no day in March will be a public holiday in all of Spain, with April 1st being a non-work day everywhere except in Catalonia and the Valencia region and Friday (Viernes Santo) a holiday every in the country.

Other famous festivities such as Valencia’s Fallas, a spectacle of fire and plenty of noise, will not be taking place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Saint Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th, but celebrations across Irish pubs in Spain are also likely to be limited.

Friday March 19 marks Father’s Day in Spain.

Easter travel breaks within Spain may be challenging

Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, the Basque country, Cantabria, Castilla y Leon, Catalonia, Ceuta and Melilla, Galicia, Murcia, Navarra, and Valencia currently do not allow people to leave and enter their regions, which makes a short Easter getaway within Spain impossible for many people.

Regional governments generally evaluate their coronavirus situation every two weeks, so stay tuned to The Local Spain as we will update you if any region lifts its border closure before Easter.

Madrid, the Canaries and Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, and Extremadura remain open to travellers entering and leaving their regions but restrictions or requirements may apply.

The Canary Islands for example have a rule in place until April 5th which allows people from other parts of Spain to visit the archipelago as long as they provide a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before.

Spain’s traffic authority goes digital

Spain’s DGT has announced that from March 1st, it will be possible to do more than 30 processes online instead of in person at their offices. 

These include requesting an international driving licence, paying fees and fines online and ordering a duplicate of your licence if you’ve lost it or it’s been stolen. 

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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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