Spain challenged with returning tourists amid COVID-19 lockdown

Spanish FM told tourists they were welcome in Spain, but they have to obey the restrictions on the movement of people that we have introduced. [EPA/Alejandro Garcia]

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said on Wednesday (18 March) that Madrid would facilitate the return of foreign tourists to their home countries after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that the “worst was still to come”. EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

The announcement came after the UK’s Foreign Office told all British tourists in Spain to return home after the Spanish government ordered the closure of all hotels, holiday apartments and campsites from 24 March.

Laya called on foreign tourists in Spain to follow the nation-wide lockdown, which has kept some 47 million people homebound since the government declared a state of emergency on Saturday (15 March).

“You’re welcome in Spain, but if you are here you have to obey the restrictions on the movement of people that we have introduced,” she told a press conference in English.

“We are working with the authorities to facilitate the return to your countries in an orderly manner,” said the foreign minister, who also urged all Spaniards who were currently on vacation to consider travelling back to Spain as soon as possible.

There are currently 3,500 Spaniards registered as tourists abroad, she said.

However, several airline companies such as Ryanair, which offer cheap links between the UK and popular tourist destinations like the Canary Islands and the Balearics, said most of their flights would be grounded due to government restrictions.

The impact of coronavirus on Europe’s tourism sector is expected to be massive.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said earlier this week that the European tourism industry is expected to suffer losses of roughly €1 billion per month.

European tourism sector urges measures to mitigate COVID-19 impact

Europe’s tourism industry is bracing itself for an economic impact that could potentially push several countries into recession, as a result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis on the continent.

Over 12,000 active cases

Prime Minister Sanchez has called for political unity to confront the coronavirus pandemic as figures rose by more than 2,500 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to more than 13,000 since the outbreak began.

Addressing a parliamentary chamber of about 30 or so lawmakers a day after he unveiled an emergency economic plan to help businesses and families, Sanchez said he would review the state of Spain’s universal healthcare system once the health crisis subsided and detailed his economic bailout, which is worth around €200 billion, or 20% of the nation’s GDP.

The session got underway as the health ministry said the total number of people infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak began in Spain had hit 13,716. Fernando Simon, who leads the emergency public health department at the ministry, said at least 598 people had died from the disease and that while 774 were still in intensive care, 1,081 had recovered, meaning there were still over 12,000 active cases.

He warned, however, that those figures could jump in the coming days as the health ministry puts its quick testing equipment into action in a bid to diagnose patients with even light symptoms of COVID-19. By rolling out the quick testing kits, the government would be able to paint a clearer picture of the transmission of the disease and draw conclusions as to whether it was increasing or decreasing.

Asked whether he agreed with the prime minister that the worst was yet to come, Simon said he did not expect there to be an “avalanche” of serious cases but that there would be an increase in overall numbers.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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