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Travel: Spain imposes mandatory quarantine on arrivals from India over virus strain fears

Spain will make all travellers arriving from India undergo a 10-day quarantine to prevent the potential spread of the Asian country’s coronavirus variant within the Spanish territory.

Travel: Spain imposes mandatory quarantine on arrivals from India over virus strain fears
Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP

Spanish government spokesperson María Jesús Montero made the announcement on Tuesday, explaining that as there are no direct flights between Spain and India, it isn’t possible for Spain to adopt measures such as banning arrivals outright as other European countries have done.

The quarantine requirement for travellers arriving to Spain from India starts on May 1st 2021.

India joins a number of South American and African nations that are already on Spain’s quarantine list to stem the spread of the Brazilian and South African variants. 

According to the Spanish government’s website, those “coming from the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Republic of South Africa, Republic of Botswana, Union of Comoros, Republic of Ghana, Republic of Kenya, Republic of Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania, Republic of Zambia, Republic of Zimbabwe, Republic of Peru and Republic of Colombia, must remain in quarantine for 10 days after their arrival in Spain, or for the duration of their stay if it is shorter than that. This period may end earlier, if on the seventh day the person is tested for acute infection with negative results.”

India is currently battling a record-breaking rise in Covid-19 infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and led to severe bed and oxygen shortages.

A key question is whether a new variant with potentially worrying mutations – B.1.617 – is behind what is currently the world’s fastest-growing outbreak, setting four records in a row for the highest daily coronavirus infections by one country, the latest on Sunday with 349,691 new cases.

The country has also been recording around 3,000 deaths per day from Covid-19. 

Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Italy and the Netherlands have all imposed restrictions or travel bans on arrivals from India in recent days.

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“No cases of the Indian variant have been detected to date to my knowledge,” Spain’s Emergencies Coordinator Chief Fernando Simón told journalists on Monday. 

“The intel does not indicate that we have to worry about it,” he added, given that the UK variant now makes up 94 percent of all infections in Spain. 

“We cannot rule out that a case (of the Indian variant) may be detected”, Simón admitted, but “so far it is not a variant of concern, it is a variant of interest”.

Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27th, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP)

That is not a view shared by Amós José García Rojas , president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinations (AEV), who argues “we have to worry a lot” about the “chaos” that this new variant is leaving in the Asian country and why it could affect the spread of this strain of the virus.

“This new variant is fundamentally worrying because of what it is causing in India,” Rojas told medical publication Redacción Médica. 

“It shows that as there are territories where people are largely not vaccinated, there’s many people who are susceptible to the virus and it creates a breeding ground for the development of new variants”.

“We cannot vaccinate comprehensively in some countries and forget about other countries at the mercy of God.

“We have to worry about everyone because there is a risk that situations like the one seen in India will happen again. 

So far, the B.1.617 variant has been categorised by the World Health Organisation as a “variant of interest”.

Other variants detected in Brazil, South Africa and the UK have been categorised as “of concern”, because they are more transmissible, virulent or might reduce antibody efficacy.

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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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