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COVID-19 RULES

Spain’s Catalonia says close contacts of all Covid infections must quarantine, even if fully vaccinated

Faced with a surge in cases of the new Omicron variant, Catalan health officials have said all close contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19 - of any strain - must self-isolate, regardless of whether they’re double vaccinated or not.

Spain's Catalonia says close contacts of all Covid infections must quarantine, even if fully vaccinated
People attend a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata in Barcelona last Christmas. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

On Friday December 17th, Catalonia’s Health Department announced it would change its health protocol so that all close contacts of positive patients – of any COVID-19 strain – will have to quarantine from Monday December 20th, even if they have been double vaccinated.

This measure had previously only applied for cases of the Omicron variant, but regional health boss Josep Maria Argimon fears the new variant will make up the majority of cases in a week or ten days, and dominate cases in the new year.

Twenty percent of samples anaylsed in Catalonia are already suspected of being the omicron variant, a figure that rises to 25 percent in the Barcelona area.

The Catalan Generalitat government’s scientific advisory committee is meeting on Friday afternoon to consider the rise in numbers, and possibly implement measures to halt the rise in cases.

In early December, Spain’s Health Ministry said that people in close contact with those infected with the Omicron, Beta and Gamma variants must quarantine for ten days, although regional health authorities have the power to decide whether to fully apply these rules.

Catalonia’s approach to require quarantine from close contacts of all variants solves the issue of not knowing which strain a person is infected with, as the three PCR tests conducted to ascertain the variant are not always conclusive and usually require complex sequencing.

“There is a new variant, a new element to take into account and all situations must be evaluated,” Argimon explained this week, hinting at new measures.

The new rules on contact isolation are hoped to, in part, slow the spread of the new virus.

But Catalonia is not alone: the Madrid region is also facing a surge in omicron cases. According to healthcare sources, the omicron variant accounts for over 30 percent of cases diagnosed in some hospitals.

The regional health minister, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, estimated today that as many as 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases are of the omicron strain.

On Friday, an Andalusian court approved measures requiring vaccination or negative test certificates for entry into bars, restaurants and other events.

Cases have been spiralling across Spain in recent weeks, though it is important to note that both hospitalisations and deaths, thanks to Spain’s effective vaccination programme, are nowhere close to the levels seen in the past.

As of this week, just 5 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds are taken up by COVID-19 patients and 14 percent of all intensive care units.

When infections spiked last January, Covid-19 patients took up 14 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds and 27 percent of intensive care units.

With cases increasing across Spain, it is expected other regions could follow Catalonia with new rules. Spain’s regions – each of which runs its own own healthcare systems, controls coronavirus restrictions and coordinates vaccination programs – will have decisions to make, but many are not offering detailed data yet, until the necessary genetic sequencing of samples can be completed, and it is believed that

Catalonia may be the first to reintroduce ore stringent restrictions to curb the spread of omicron, right before Christmas.

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TRAVEL NEWS

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

Britons, Americans and other non-EU/Schengen travellers who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered from Covid-19 will not be able to visit Spain for tourism for at least another month, Spanish authorities have confirmed.

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel (including tourism) from most third countries for another month, until June 15th 2022.

That means that non-EU/Schengen adults who reside outside of the EU and who haven’t been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the illness in the past six months cannot go on holiday to Spain during the next month. 

Therefore, Spain continues to not accept negative Covid-19 tests from British, American, Canadian, Indian or other third-country nationals who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered. 

There had been hopes that the shorter two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel issued on April 30th, as well as talk of the “orderly and progressive reopening” of the country’s borders, would mean that unvaccinated third country nationals would be allowed into Spain in May.

But in the end, Saturday May 14th’s state bulletin confirmed that Spain will keep the same measures in place for another 31 days, stating that they “will eventually be modified to respond to a change of circumstances or to new recommendations in the context of the European Union”.

Spain’s ban on unvaccinated non-EU travellers is arguably the last major Covid-19 restriction in place in the country, and other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ireland are allowing unvaccinated tourists in.

This latest announcement by the Spanish government marks the umpteenth extension to non-essential travel from outside of the EU/Schengen area over the past two years of the pandemic, the previous one was due to expire on May 15th. 

But perhaps this extension is the most surprising, as the Spanish health ministry has modified its rulebook to treat Covid-19 like the flu and the country wants to recover the tourism numbers it had pre-pandemic.

The ban affects unvaccinated British tourists in particular, as the UK is still the biggest tourism market for Spain, but Britons’ non-EU status means they have to follow the same Covid-19 travel rules as other third-country nationals.

Vaccinated or recovered third-country travellers

Those who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 more than two weeks prior to travel to Spain will need to show a valid vaccination certificate with an EMA or WHO approved vaccine.

If their initial vaccination treatment was completed more than 9 months ago (270 days), they’ll need to show they’ve had a Covid-19 booster shot. 

As for non-EU/Schengen travellers who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, they will need to show a recovery certificate to prove this

According to Spain’s Health Ministry, recovery certificates accepted as valid are those “issued at least 11 days after the first positive NAAT or RAT, and up to a maximum of 180 days after the date of sampling”, as well as being issued by the relevant authorities.

Exceptions

In early February, Spanish authorities also decided to start allowing unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen teenagers aged 12 to 17 to visit Spain for tourism if they provided a negative PCR.

Spain continues to have a small list of low-risk third countries whose travellers visiting Spain for non-essential reasons can enter without having to present proof of Covid-19 testing, recovery or vaccination. 

This is updated weekly and can be checked here by clicking on the PDF under “risk and high risk countries/areas”. 

READ ALSO: Can I travel to my second home in Spain if I’m not vaccinated?

If you’re not vaccinated or recovered, the exceptions for travel to Spain from third countries that fall under the non-essential travel restrictions are:

  • You are a resident in the EU or Schengen country.
  • You have a visa for a long duration stay in an EU or Schengen country.
  • You work in transport, such as airline staff or are in a maritime profession.
  • You work in diplomatic, consular, international organisations, military or civil protection or are a member of a humanitarian organisation.
  • You have a student visa for a country in the EU or Schengen zone.
  • You are a highly qualified worker or athlete whose work cannot be postponed or carried out remotely.
  • You are travelling for duly accredited imperative family reasons.
  • You are allowed entry due to force majeure or on humanitarian grounds.
  • And as mentioned earlier in the article, if you have a vaccination certificate that Spain’s Ministry of Health recognises, as well as for any accompanying minors (unless they’re under 12 years of age).

READ ALSO: When do I need to fill out Spain’s Covid health control form for travel?

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