‘Avoid travel to Spain’: US issues warning amid rising Omicron cases

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has moved Spain into its highest travel risk level and asked American nationals and residents to avoid travel to the Iberian nation due to its increasingly high Covid infection rate.

An American Airlines plane parked at its gate in the Miami International Airport
An American Airlines plane parked at its gate in the Miami International Airport. Photo: Joe Raedle/AFP

The CDC on Monday recommended against travel to Spain, as the country joined most other nations in Europe in the US’s Level 4 category. 

It remains a recommendation to “avoid travel” to Spain, with the American health body stating that “if you must travel to Spain, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel”.

“Because of the current situation in Spain, even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” the CDC added. 

The change points to worries among US authorities regarding the new Omicron variant, where federal health officials already say it represents 73 percent of new Covid cases in the country and is now the dominant strain in the United States.

Spain’s fortnightly infection is now over 500 cases per 100,000 people, classified as “extreme” risk even after Spanish authorities last month raised the bar for what constituted high risk.

Omicron cases represent 47 percent of new infections, according to the latest Spanish health ministry data from December 20th.

Spain – together with Finland, Chad, Lebanon, the island of Bonaire, Monaco, San Marino and Gibraltar – all moved up to the CDC’s Level 4 risk on Monday.

Currently, unvaccinated US travellers who aren’t residents or nationals of Spain cannot travel to Spain for non-essential reasons such as tourism. Those who are fully vaccinated and can prove it through official vaccination documentation can visit Spain for leisure. 

On November 8th, the United States lifted Covid travel restrictions on passengers from Spain if they were fully vaccinated and met other conditions such as getting tested before travel.

The same rules still apply despite this latest discouraging recommendation issued by the CDC, but it can’t be ruled out that the American government will soon tighten entry rules once more to attempt to contain the spread of this latest highly transmissible strain.

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Could Spain’s Vueling be the next airline to face strikes?

Cabin crew for the low-cost Spanish airline have threatened to follow the example of their counterparts at Ryanair and Easyjet and stop working during August unless they receive a pay rise.

Could Spain's Vueling be the next airline to face strikes?

Summer air travel in Spain and Europe continues to be marred by problems ranging from flight cancellations, delays, lost luggage and general travel chaos, involving popular airlines Ryanair, EasyJet, Lufthsansa, Swiss and Brussels Airlines.

The latest airline which could be hit with setbacks is Barcelona-headquartered Vueling.

On Tuesday, between 300 and 400 of its employees protested outside the offices of Vueling’s holding company IAG at Barcelona’s El Prat Airport, calling for a 6.5 percent rise in their salaries and better conditions relating to work-life balance.

The 6.5 percent figure corresponds to the rise in Spain’s Consumer Price Index at the end of 2021, the highest in 29 years, with many workers arguing they struggle to make ends meet in the Catalan capital with what Vueling pays them. 

“If the company doesn’t change its stance, we’ll soon suggest a strike” warned Guadalupe Romero, spokesperson for Stavla, one of the unions which represents Vueling’s Spain-based workers. 

“We agreed to put negotiations on hold during the pandemic due to other urgent matters, including furlough negotiations, but now Covid-19 is behind us and the same problems exist.

“The current agreement is outdated, and inflation has made it impossible to make ends meet. Added to that are the exhausting work hours”.

Vueling management and their employees have been discussing the conditions of a new collective agreement for the past weeks, but so far no new wages deal has been reached. 

A key meeting scheduled for Friday August 5th at Spain’s Mediation and Arbitration Service (SIMA) could decide whether Vueling cabin crew go ahead with the stoppage this month.