Almost 11,000 German holidaymakers will begin arriving in the Balearic islands from Monday as part of a pilot scheme to help Spain reactivate its tourism sector, following the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The “safe tourist corridors” initiative will serve as a trial run as Spain prepares to reopen its borders to EU countries and those in the Schengen area on 21 June. At the request of the Portuguese government, the land border with Spain will not open until 1 July.
About 10,900 German tourists are scheduled to arrive on 47 separate flights over the coming days and will spend at least five days on the islands. Most will stay on Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, but there will be eight flights to Ibiza and one to Menorca.
Under the scheme, the German tourists will not need to be tested for the coronavirus and will also be exempt from the mandatory two-week quarantine period.
However, they will have to fill out a public health form, have their temperature taken on arrival at the airport, and give the authorities their contact details and the address of their accommodation. If they develop any symptoms, a team will be dispatched to where they are staying to carry out a PCR test.
Health authorities will also keep in touch with the tourists via their mobiles.
Francina Armengol, the regional president, described the scheme as “an important step in helping to restore the Balearics’s reputation as “a safe, quality destination”.
The regional government said German tourists had been chosen for the scheme because Germany is the the country that sends the most visitors to the archipelago, closely followed by the UK, and because Germany’s health situation was similar to that of the islands.
“We’re in a similar epidemiological situation to Germany, but that isn’t the case with the UK,” said Iago Negueruela, head of the Balearics’ tourism department. What’s more, with Germany we are negotiating within EU conditions and the Schengen zone, which is not the case with the UK.”
The Balearics depend on tourism for 35% of their GDP and the sector makes up around 12% of the national GDP.
The Canary islands are piloting a similar scheme to welcome 9,300 Germans during the second half of June, but authorities there want visitors to be tested for the virus.
“It’s the most reliable system for minimising risk,” a regional government source told Reuters. They said it had yet to be decided whether testing would be done before travel or on arrival. The plan is still awaiting permission from the central government in Madrid.
The state of emergency that underpins Spain’s strict coronavirus lockdown has been in place since 14 March and is due to end on 21 June. The Balearic islands are in the fourth and final stage of lockdown de-escalation.
The Spanish government said the trial run could yield lessons that could be learned across other parts of the country. It said on Friday: “Pilot programmes involving safe tourist corridors are being undertaken before the state of emergency ends to see how the model for the lifting of temporary controls on internal borders and the return to freedom of movement is working.
“This will afford us the necessary guarantees when it comes to tracking, identifying and isolating possible Covid-19 cases among a far smaller group of tourists than is likely to arrive subsequently.”
Spain had been due to delay the reopening of its borders to other EU countries until 1 July. But on Sunday, the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced they would open a week earlier and that the 14-day quarantine requirement for those entering the country from overseas would also expire on 21 June.
Spain will open its borders to so-called third countries, which are not part of the Schengen area, from 1 July – providing their epidemiological situation is similar to, or better than that of the EU, that they show reciprocity when it comes to travel, and that they agree to certain health conditions.
At the beginning of June, Spain’s tourism minister, María Reyes Maroto, said the country’s message to UK tourists, its largest single national visitor group, was simple: “As soon as possible, we want British tourists to come back as soon as they can.”
Maroto also said, however, the Spanish government needed more clarity from the UK about when British tourists would be able to fly abroad and whether they would need to self-isolate on return.
“We’re in touch with British authorities and tour operators regarding two elements that need to be resolved,” she said. “One is the possible quarantine that the British government has announced. We know that there are pressures from the sector and that it could be taken off the agenda, but what’s really limiting movement right now are the restrictions from the Foreign Office.”
From Monday, more than 70% of Spain will be in the final phase of lockdown exit. But the Madrid region and the Barcelona metropolitan area, two of the hardest-hit areas, will remain in the penultimate phase, along with parts of the Castilla y Léon region and the Catalan province of Lleida.
Covid-19 has killed more than 27,000 people in Spain and infected more than 242,000. Between 11 May and 11 June, Spanish health authorities recorded 104 imported cases of the virus among people arriving from other countries.
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