Spain

Postcard From Southern Europe, Where Mask Wearing is Almost Universal

A Daily Sceptic reader has just returned from a trip to Spain and Italy and has sent us this guest post. Depressing reading.

One of the lovelier benefits to travel is the perspective it lends to life at home. Usually, this revolves around how the British sky and food is more dull than we realise, but after two recent trips to Spain and Italy one would be forgiven for thinking that Blighty is a post-Covid, liberal, free-thinking nirvana.

Both countries in question reported big Covid numbers – broadly in line with ours. Now both have similar vaccination levels and both are reporting broadly similar case daily numbers too. Their supine adoption of the ‘passport’ has been relatively well documented but but to walk the streets or beaches in either is to see a population cowed by face mask legislation. Masks are obligatory more or less everywhere indoors but it is the manner of their adoption which makes it all the more depressing.

Two nationalities (which one might playfully suggest are known for their selective application of some rules) have taken to the wearing of masks with quiet supplication. When viewed with the rapid dropping of masks we are enjoying at home this makes for a most depressing spectacle.

The farcical insistence that a face mask is worn when walking from a beach bed to a bar is barely credible yet the adherence is almost total. Equally, to see a solitary, masked parking attendant standing in a country lane is absurd as it is worrying.

The beautiful and ancient Fallas of Valancia this year were reconvened after the pandemic, but despite taking place in deserted streets the participants were still required to wear masks alongside their fabulous costumes.

Of course, there is the human element, our children grumbled at wearing a mask – it was uncomfortable, new for them and scary – and were barely challenged when they did not. But the fact remains that every other child was happily going about with a mini-mask strapped to their face.

One wonders if this can be traced back to their lockdowns. Neither country closed schools to any great extent but children were required to wear masks at school. Equally, neither had such a wholesale adoption of home-working as here and while offices opened earlier than in the U.K., many people wore masks at their desks and were often banned from using meeting rooms, asked instead to use virtual conferencing with their colleagues a few yards away.

I cannot comment on the mask hesitancy or counter-arguments that have been made – of which I am sure there have been many, but writing this in a charming pizzeria in Milan I note that I was reminded to wear my mask by two people upon arrival and had my temperature taken to walk the 10 paces from the door to the terrace – whereupon my mask is not required.

If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

Ibiza Looking to Put Together Snitch Squad to Report on Lockdown Rule Breakers

Ibizan officials are considering hiring undercover operatives to attend secret parties that break lockdown rules and snitch on the organisers to the authorities. Organisers of illegal parties – who are being blamed for an increase in positive Covid tests – face fines of up to €600,000 (£513,000). The Guardian has the story.

The idea comes as the island, where the renowned nightlife and music scene has long drawn tourists from around the world, seeks to tackle a two-week Covid incidence rate that has soared to 1,814 cases per 100,000 of the population. With most nightclubs shuttered – except for those able to hold outdoor events where patrons are seated at all times – and gatherings in restaurants and bars limited to small groups, officials have blamed illegal parties for the spike in cases.

They have responded with an array of restrictions, from a ban on mixed-household gatherings between 1am and 6am to fines of up to €600,000 (£513,000) for those who organise illegal parties.

Even so, the parties have not stopped. “They’re not only an issue related to public order, which they have always been, but now they pose an obvious risk to people’s health,” a local official, Mariano Juan, told the newspaper Diario de Ibiza. “Police themselves say it’s difficult for them to infiltrate, as they are known to locals. So we have to look outside for help.” …

Local officials are now in talks with a company that is studying how best to put together a team who can help police in detecting these parties, said Juan. “It is not easy as the profile we’re looking for are foreigners between 30 and 40 years old, but we have been working on it for two weeks.”

Nevertheless, he was confident that the initiative would advance quickly. “I have no doubt that it will be up and running this summer… It’s a necessity to safeguard the health situation in Ibiza.” …

The idea has… been heavily criticised by the Socialist party, which leads the regional administration covering Ibiza. A spokesperson, Vicent Torres, called on the island’s officials to put forth “serious proposals that have legal backing” rather than “acting irresponsibly by launching ideas that we cannot agree to”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “I absolutely love this story,” says Guardian reporter Robyn Vinter, apparently welcoming the idea of hiring tourists to spy on each other.

“You’d Have to be Crackers to Book a Holiday”

A raging battle has erupted in the Cabinet over plans for a danger list of countries that could see destinations like Spain and Italy suddenly move to red. MailOnline has more.

The plans for a new ‘amber watch list’ sparked outrage in Whitehall as some ministers believe it could ruin the holiday hopes of millions of Britons.

The idea, which was agreed in principle this week, would see holidaymakers warned that while they are abroad certain amber countries could go straight on to the red list.

This would leave them facing compulsory hotel quarantine on their return, at a cost of £1,750 a head.

Spain and Italy both featured in talks about countries that could be put into the new category – as soon as next week – amid fears about the Beta variant, which first emerged in South Africa.

Senior ministers, including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are said to have reservations about imposing further disruption on the beleaguered travel sector.

Mr Shapps urged people to “ignore speculation” ahead of decisions next week. But behind the scenes a battle is raging.

One Whitehall source said: “You would have to be crackers to book a holiday to a place knowing that it could go on to the red list at any moment.

“If you have already booked to go there you are going to spend your whole holiday worrying whether you are going to have to make a dash to the airport to get home.

“The decision next week will basically be in place for August. It is peak holiday season – are we really going to cause that much disruption to this many people?”

Worth reading in full.

Holidays Ruined for Millions of Brits if Spain and Greece are Forced on to “Amber Plus” List

Reports suggest that the Government is considering demoting both Spain and Greece to the “Amber Plus” List alongside France due to fears over Covid variants, a decision that could ruin the holiday plans of millions of Brits – and not for the first time. MailOnline has the story.

The list effectively strips back ‘Freedom Day’ rules, which allow [fully vaccinated] holidaymakers to return from “Amber List” countries without having to face a mandatory period of self-isolation.

But, just days before the new rules were to be announced, the Government threw tens of thousands of holidays into doubt by revealing that double-jabbed Britons returning from France would still have to quarantine.

Now Greece and Spain, both of which are currently on the Amber List, could follow France onto the so-called Amber Plus List.

But, according to figures released by Labour, that could leave an estimated 5,857,558 people facing the prospect of last-minute quarantine requirements – plunging the holidays into “chaos once more”. 

The Government introduced an exemption for the requirement to isolate at home for 10 days for fully-vaccinated holidaymakers returning from countries on the amber list.

But ministers removed the exemption for France amid concerns over the Beta variant, creating what critics call an Amber Plus designation on the traffic light system for foreign travel.

There has been speculation that Greece and Spain could face the same measures as France, though the Government has not confirmed this. …

The opposition estimated the number of people to have booked holidays to those three nations by looking at official data for past travel and adjusting for lower willingness to travel during the pandemic by comparing with surveys.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The travel list allocations have not changed for Spain or Greece.

“We are closely monitoring the data and will take swift action on travel list allocations and international travel requirements should the data show that countries’ risk to England has changed.”

It comes as holidaymakers faced up to three-hour queues through passport control at Heathrow Airport yesterday after e-gates broke down and the ‘pingdemic’ left just one official at the desks, according to frustrated passengers.

Worth reading in full.

Why Is the Government Making Testing for Travel More Difficult Than It Needs to Be?

A reader has got in touch to highlight the Government’s confusion over testing requirements for people travelling to Spain. Visitors must either show proof of vaccination (with two doses) or of a recent Covid test to be granted entry to the country. The reader hopes to travel to Spain with their 16 year-old child, ruling out the vaccine option. This is where they noticed an error on the Gov.uk website, which says:

[Arrivals must show] documentation issued within 48 hours prior to arrival in Spain, certifying that you have undertaken a Covid test, e.g. PCR, TMA, LAMP or NEAR, and tested negative. Antigen tests are not currently accepted. [Emphasis added]

The website tells readers to “see Spain Travel Health page for specific details regarding the documentation you must present to accredit your Covid test results and proof of vaccination”. But when you do this, you find that antigen tests are, in fact, accepted, so long as the providers are approved by the European Commission.

A number of the rapid antigen tests listed on the European Commission website are available in the U.K.

The reader even went to the trouble of contacting the Spanish health authorities to confirm that arrivals with proof of a negative result from an antigen test will be allowed entry. The response confirms that the information on the U.K. Government’s website is incorrect.

The diagnostic tests valid for travel to Spain are the NAAT (for instance, PCR, TMA or LAMP) and antigen tests, taken during the 48 hours prior to arrival in Spain.

So why is the Government telling Brits that proof of antigen testing is not accepted for travel, but that more time-consuming and, importantly, more expensive methods of testing are? The reader who contacted us seems to be on to something: “Our Government is doing everything it can to make life as awkward as possible for unvaccinated people.”

Handful of Countries Added to Government’s Travel “Green List”

Amid much pressure from travel industry leaders, the Government has added a handful of countries to its quarantine-free “Green List”. However, all but one of these countries have also been added to the “Green Watchlist”, meaning they are “at risk” of being pushed back onto the “Amber List”, making it difficult for Brits to confidently book holidays abroad. Sky News has more.

Spain’s Balearic Islands, Malta, Madeira, and some islands in the Caribbean – including Barbados – have been added to England’s travel Green List, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

The Balearic Islands are made up of Ibiza, Menorca, Majorca and Formentera.

The move means those heading to some popular holiday hotspots will not have to quarantine on their return following the latest review of the travel traffic light system.

However, all of the new additions to the quarantine-free travel list, with the exception of Malta, will also be added to the Government’s Green Watchlist, the Department for Transport said.

The “Watchlist” will also include Jerusalem and Israel.

It means these countries “are at risk of moving from Green to Amber”, the Department said, noting that “passengers are urged to take extra care when thinking about travelling to Green Watchlist countries”.

The changes come into effect at 4am on Wednesday, June 30th.

Six countries, including Tunisia and Haiti, have been added to the Government’s “Red List”. People returning to Britain from these countries must quarantine for 10 days in a Government-approved hotel – and pay £1,750 for the privilege. Meanwhile, Scotland has added 16 countries to its own Green List, with seven having been added to Northern Ireland’s.

The Sky News report is worth reading in full.

Spain to Trial Four-Day Working Week

In a further indication that the world will not return to normal after lockdown(s), Spain is set to trial reducing its working week to four days in the hope of preventing increases in Covid infections. Sky News has the story.

Spain is planning to use €50 million (£43 million) in EU funds to cut its working week to four days in a bid to prevent further coronavirus outbreaks.

The experiment is set to last for three years and will be funded by money from the European Union’s massive Covid recovery fund.

The money will compensate some 200 mid-size companies as they resize their workforce or reorganise production workflows to adapt to a 32-hour working week.

It will go towards subsidising all of the employers’ extra costs in the first year of the trial and then reduce the government’s aid to 50% and 25% each consecutive year. …

Reducing work hours from 40 to 35 per week in 2017 would have resulted in a 1.5% GDP growth and 560,000 new jobs, a study published earlier this year in the Cambridge Journal of Economics found.

Salaries would have also increased nationally by 3.7%, especially benefiting women who more often take part-time jobs, the research said.

Software Delsol, in southern Spain, invested €400,000 (£343,000) last year to reduce working hours for its 190 employees and has since then reported a 28% reduction in absenteeism, with people choosing to go to the bank or see their doctor on their weekday off.

Their sales increased last year by 20% and no single employee has quit since the new schedule was adopted.

However, the scheme’s critics say a pandemic-shaken economy is not the best scenario for experiments.

Work after the pandemic is likely to be very different from that before 2020. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about people spending more of their working hours at home. According to the workspace provider IWG (formerly Regus), “hybrid working”, where staff work from home some of the time, will become “the norm”. The BBC has the story.

Working from home some of the time, or hybrid working, will become “the norm” for many companies after the pandemic, says global workspace provider IWG.

Firms will be looking to save money and be more environment-friendly by using less office space, said IWG chief executive Mark Dixon.

IWG said 2020 had been a “challenging” year as fewer firms rented its offices.

But it said it was ready to take advantage of “accelerating demand” for hybrid working.

Sky’s report on Spain’s trial is worth reading in full.

Spain to Launch Vaccine Passports for Travellers

Travellers into Spain will be required to present digital vaccine passports from May, the country’s Tourism Minister has announced. The Mail has the story.

Sunny Spanish holidays could be back on for Britons within weeks as the tourism minister revealed a vaccine passport system was planned for the middle of May. 

It comes after Greece announced plans to reopen to holidaymakers from mid-May and Cyprus said it would welcome fully-vaccinated Britons from May 1st.

But those hoping to jet off for the Early May bank holiday are set to be barred by UK authorities because Boris Johnson has said he won’t allow overseas leisure travel until at least May 17th. 

Spain’s tourism minister Reyes Maroto told a radio station on Wednesday: “We could be in a position to start implementing the digital passport (when the tourism fair FITUR starts on May 19th).”

Under the Government’s roadmap for England, this would mean that holidaymakers could fly freely to Spain – providing they had their jabs and the country hadn’t be [sic] added to the dreaded “red list” from which entry to the UK is banned over Covid variant fears. 

This would prevent those who do not take the vaccine from being able to travel to Spain, among other countries. But even those who are fully vaccinated may not be permitted to holiday abroad by mid-May. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who promised in January that he would personally stand “on the barricades” if all of our freedoms were not returned in March, said: “I am hopeful [about holidaying in May] but, as with everything to do with this virus, you can’t say for certain.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Greece will open its borders to British holidaymakers on May 14th. Britons who have either had both doses of the vaccine or can produce a negative test will not face any restrictions. Greece’s refusal to exclude the unvaccinated is a sign that post-lockdown(s), countries may be reluctant to restrict tourism for fear of limiting their economic recoveries.