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‘It doesn’t add up – foreigners can visit Spain but Spaniards can’t move’, health chief

Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón told journalists on Monday that it’s “incongruous” that foreign tourists and second home owners can travel to Spain but residents won’t be able to cross regional borders during the Easter break.

'It doesn't add up - foreigners can visit Spain but Spaniards can’t move', health chief
Spain's chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Simón, who has been the Spanish Health Ministry’s primary spokesperson during the pandemic, was asked: “How would you explain to Spaniards that foreigners can come to their second homes in Spain and they can come on holiday but Spaniards cannot go to their second homes?”

“Sometimes there are incongruence that aren’t easy to explain. I at least find it hard to explain,” he replied. 

Currently there are regional, provincial and even municipal border closures in different parts of Spain that make travel for Spanish nationals and foreign residents hard without justified reasons. 

Spain’s 17 autonomous communities also reached a preliminary agreement to close their borders during the Easter holidays at the start of April. 

But travel to Spain from many countries is still allowed (mainly from EU), with PCR tests required from lower risk countries and a travel ban for travellers from the UK, Brazil, South Africa and a handful of other African nations. 

“It’s not the same if an English person comes than if 20,000 people move from one city to another,” he justified, citing that arrivals from overseas are “subject to important restrictions” and international tourism is opening up “slowly”.

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“It’s not as if any foreigner can come to Spain right now,” Simón concluded. 

“Foreigners who are residents in Spain can come, as can Spanish nationals working abroad if they’re residents here. 

Spanish authorities are hoping their vaccine campaign will be 70 percent complete by the summer in order to be able to guarantee herd immunity and open up to tourists again. 

On Tuesday, this benchmark figure to kickstart Spain’s ailing tourism industry was revised down to 30-40 percent immunity.

READ MORE:

Spring break: how Spain plans to welcome back tourists before summer

Spain lost an estimated €72 billion in tourism revenue during 2020 and saw a drop in 65 million tourists. Another summer without foreign visitors will be devastating for the country’s economy.  

Tourism was Spain’s most important sector accounting for almost 15 percent of the country’s GDP and providing 2.8 million people with work before the Covid-19 outbreak.

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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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