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LA PALMA

Volcanic ash closes airport on Spain’s La Palma again

Clouds of thick ash from the volcano on the Canary island of La Palma on Thursday forced the island's airport to close for the second time since the eruption began last month, Spain's airport authority said.

The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava, ash and smoke on the Canary Island of La Palma on October 7, 2021. - Clouds of thick ash from the erupting volcano on La Palma have forced the island's airport to close for the second time since the September 19 eruption, Spain's airport authority said. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
The Cumbre Vieja volcano spews lava, ash and smoke on the Canary Island of La Palma on October 7, 2021. - Clouds of thick ash from the erupting volcano on La Palma have forced the island's airport to close for the second time since the September 19 eruption, Spain's airport authority said. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

“La Palma airport is not operational due to the accumulation of ash,” AENA tweeted, with a spokeswoman telling AFP “some cleaning work needs to be done” on the runways before it would reopen.

The airport was briefly shut on September 25 after a thick cloud of black ash forced airlines to cancel flights.

Although it was reopened a day later, flights did not resume until September 29th.

It has been 18 days since La Cumbre Vieja began erupting, forcing more than 6,000 people out of their homes as the lava burnt its way across huge swathes of land on La Palma, one of Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands that lie off the northwestern coast of Morocco.

The AENA spokeswoman said Thursday’s airport closure “may not last very long”.

David Calvo, spokesman for Involcan, the Canary Islands volcanic institute, said the volcano was producing “a lot of ash”, saying a change in the wind meant the ash cloud was “affecting the airport”.

On Wednesday evening, local airline Binter had said it was cancelling all flights in and out of La Palma.

“This suspension will last until conditions improve and we can fly safely,” Binter tweeted, with rival airline Canaryfly also suspending flights.

General view of the closed and empty airport after all flights were cancelled, on the Canary Island of La Palma, on October 7, 2021, as clouds of thick ash from the erupting volcano on La Palma forced the island's airport to close for the second time since the September 19 eruption. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
La Palma’s airport will remain closed until further notice. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the glowing lava streams could still be seen for miles around on Wednesday night.

By Thursday morning, images released by the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute (IGME) showed a thick cloud of black smoke billowing from the crater of Cumbre Vieja.

The 100-acre lava delta

Pumping out endless streams of molten rock with a temperature of over 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit), the volcano spewed out streams of lava that consumed more than 1,000 acres (422 hectares) of land as it cut a six-kilometre (3.5-mile) path to the sea.

Once it reached the coast on September 29th, it cascaded into the sea, creating a growing lava delta that is currently the size of 60 football pitches (100 acres), Involcan data shows.

And figures released on Tuesday by the islands’ regional government said more than 605 of the destroyed buildings were homes.

It has also destroyed huge swathes of banana plantations — the chief cash crop on La Palma.

“The damage is enormous.. We are talking about a third of the banana production of the entire Canary Islands,” the archipelago’s regional head Angel Víctor Torres said last week, indicating the current harvest had been “completely lost”.

The eruption on La Palma, an island of some 85,000 people, is the first in 50 years.

The last was in 1971 when another part of the same volcanic range — a vent known as Teneguia — erupted on the southern side of the island.

Two decades earlier, the Nambroque vent erupted in 1949.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter ‘in matter of days’

Spain’s Tourism Minister on Thursday announced that “in a matter of days” unvaccinated third-country nationals such as Britons and Americans will be able to travel to Spain for a holiday with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. 

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter 'in matter of days'

Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto on Thursday May 19th confirmed that it won’t be long before unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen nationals will be allowed to travel to Spain for non-essential reasons such as tourism, visiting friends or family or spending time in a second home in Spain. 

“It’s a matter of days before we eliminate a restriction that could be discouraging tourists from outside the European Union from visiting us,” Reyes told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

“And that is that we are going to stop requiring the vaccination certificate and allow them to enter with a negative test”. 

Maroto then stated that this would have to be a PDIA test, which in Spain refers to both PCR and antigen tests. If it’s a negative PCR or similar test (NAAT-type test) it must have been issued less than 72 hours prior to arrival in Spain, or if it’s a negative antigen test, less than 24 hours before arriving in Spain.

The surprise announcement comes just days after Spanish health authorities decided to extend the ban on non-essential travel for unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers until June 15th

Spain’s current Covid-19 travel restrictions only allow in third-country tourists such as Britons, Americans or Indians who have been fully vaccinated (including a booster shot if initial vaccination was more than nine months before travel) and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. 

But for practically the entirety of the pandemic, unvaccinated non-EU tourists have been unable to travel to Spain, with only exceptional reasons for travel allowed. 

Reyes’ comments came about when asked by the Onda Cero interviewer when all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions will be lifted, as there are still other measures in places such as mask wearing on public transport (including planes) and proof of vaccination, testing or recovery.

“There’s a degree of safety with travel that we have to preserve. We’re still co-existing with the pandemic but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been gradually lifting restrictions,” Maroto argued.

The minister spoke of allowing unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers in soon as being another way of boosting the country’s recovering tourism industry, adding that her ministry was putting the finishing touches to the legislation, which will be approved in the coming days. 

A number of EU/Schengen countries have already lifted all their Covid-19 travel restrictions, including Greece and Austria most recently, as well as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Other countries such as France and Italy, Spain’s competitors in the tourism stakes, have also already allowed unvaccinated third-country tourists in with proof of a negative Covid-19 test for more than a month now.

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