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‘A ridiculous lack of control’: Madrid slams Spanish govt for allowing Barajas travellers in with positive PCR tests

A top Madrid health official has accused Spain's national government of negligence for reportedly being aware that less than 10 percent of Covid tests are being carried out on inbound travellers at the Spanish capital's airport, as well as allowing in people who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Madrid Barajas Airport
Image: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Antonio Zapatero, Deputy Minister of Public Health and head of the COVID-19 Plan for the Madrid region, has said Spain’s central government is “aware” that travellers with positive PCR tests are arriving at Barajas Airport, accusing La Moncloa of “not doing their jobs properly” with regards to border control, according to a report in online daily 20 Minutos.

“From January until now (late May 2021) tests have only been carried out on 7.4 percent of travellers coming into Barajas. It is a ridiculous figure that showcases the lack of real control,” Zapatero said during a press conference.

Zapatero explained that during the weekend of May 14th to 16th, there were 21 cases of Covid-19 at Barajas Airport. He explained that those cases hailed from countries such as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, France, Turkey, and Morocco, and were later admitted to the Zendal Hospital in the capital. According to Zapatero, at least three of these people had positive PCR tests.

Spain’s Ministry of Health has indicated that these cases were detected when carrying out random documentation checks.

“I do not understand how it is possible to let people board with positive PCR tests,” said Madrid’s Deputy Minister of Public Health.

When asked if national health authorities had communicated any information regarding these cases of positive PCR tests to them, Zapatero replied that “they have not given us any explanation”.

According to the report by 20Minutos, the Madrid government has detected a total of 800 imported coronavirus cases in health centres and hospitals that have entered through Barajas Airport.

Zapatero has also indicated that two of these imported cases were of the Indian variant. One of these two cases is a Spanish citizen residing in India who was transferred to Spain on a special medical plane and the other is a foreign tourist.

“The Indian variant is more worrying, because of what we’re seeing in the United Kingdom currently,” continued Zapatero.

“In the week of May 21st to 27th, the number of cases has increased by 20 percent and the number of deaths has increased by 14 percent.

“This mutation may complicate the definitive control of the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, there is an increase in cases and hospitalisations in young, unvaccinated people too,” he concluded.

Countries around Europe are tightening travel restrictions with the UK because of the spread of the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19. 

Spain on the other hand has removed all restrictions for British tourists. From May 24th, UK holidaymakers can visit Spain without the need to quarantine or present a negative PCR test result. They will however need to fill in a health control form. 

Spain will also allow all vaccinated travellers – regardless of their country of origin – to visit the country from June 7th.

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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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