When There’s One Covid Rule Book for Locals, and Another for Tourists

MADRID – The carscar Robles vlvarez longed to celebrate Easter this year with his family in his hometown in northeastern Spain, which he has not visited since Christmas 2019.

Instead, he will spend Sunday holidays in Madrid, where he now lives, due to internal travel restrictions imposed to stop another wave of Covid-19. He says he understands why the government recently extended these rules, but he cannot understand why such a travel ban does not apply to foreign tourists visiting his hometown of Getxo, a seaside resort popular with surfers 80 miles from the French border.

“This situation is completely unfair,” said Robles vlvarez, 50, who worked in finance but is currently unemployed. “Citizens are called upon to act responsibly by politicians who themselves make completely inconsistent Covid rules.”

In the preamble to Easter, a debate in Spain on whether double standards are in place to limit Covid-19. The war is being repeated in other European countries, where authorities have also restricted domestic travel by allowing their citizens to go abroad and allowing foreign tourists to enter and move around more freely.

The involvement of the rules reflects the difficult balancing act for European governments trying to mitigate the pandemic while maintaining their economies, especially when it comes to tourism revenues, which are so critical for countries like Italy and Spain. After seven consecutive years of increasing tourist arrivals, Spain welcomed 19 million people last year, up from almost 84 million in 2019.

The Spanish government has defended its approach, stressing that visitors from most other countries do not pose the same health risks as moving residents, as they must test negative for Covid-19 before traveling. However, the residents of the area do not have the option to move around the country, even if they have been tested negatively, for leisure.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has recently presented plans to create a digital certificate that could facilitate tourism this summer, including in-house travel in the Member States.

“As transport and risk are similar for national and cross-border travel, Member States must ensure that there is coherence between the measures applied to the two types of travel,” said Christian Wigand, a spokesman for the commission.

Opposition politicians in Spain have responded to the comments. Some have already accused the authorities of favoring tourists over residents seeking an Easter getaway.

María Jesús Montero, a minister and spokeswoman for the Spanish government, said last week that the country was doing just as much as others, allowing travel abroad but restricting domestic traffic.

On Tuesday, the Spanish government ordered the mandatory use of a face mask in all public outdoor areas, including beaches. Some regional leaders immediately criticized the rule, arguing that the central government should be consulted first.

Italy also has strict rules restricting traffic throughout the country. Residents are allowed to leave their city – or home in the affected areas – only for work, health or other reasons deemed necessary.

However, the government allowed Italians to travel for tourism to most European countries, including France, Germany and Spain, asking them to take a negative test 48 hours before their return.


March 31, 2021, 9:45 a.m. ET

A spokesman for Italy’s health minister said the risk of transmission from restricted international travel was lower than the risk of free movement between domestic areas. One reason for this, he said, is the volume – it is easier and cheaper for large numbers of people to travel inland – adding that it would also be almost impossible to quarantine inter-regional travel.

The Italian hotel association Federalberghi was among those accusing the government of double standards.

“Hotels and the entire Italian hospitality system have been stuck for months due to a ban on moving from one area to another,” Bernabò Bocca, president of Federalberghi, said on Sunday. “We do not understand how it is possible to allow travel across borders and ban it within Italy,” he added.

On Tuesday, amid reports of an increase in Easter travel bookings by Italians in places such as Spain’s Canary Islands, Italy changed its rules for international travel. People flying to Italy from another European country should now be quarantined for five days and then show another negative smear test.

While the principle of free movement between Member States is the cornerstone of the European Union, the bloc has struggled not only to keep its internal borders open since last spring but also to harmonize its travel restrictions. Instead, individual Member States have repeatedly changed their travel rules, while also imposing different methods to test or quarantine travelers.

Inconsistent travel restrictions have also affected some prominent health professionals. Fernando Simon, director of Spain’s national emergency center, told a news conference in March that the country’s travel rules were unusual and difficult to explain.

Without helping, the European Union has also fought for vaccines. Spain and Italy have vaccinated only about 11% of their population. By comparison, Britain gave 46 percent and the United States 29 percent, according to the New York Times.

Spain is not the only country struggling to sell citizens with travel and vacation rules. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized last week for abandoning an unpopular plan to extend the Easter holiday.

The turn came shortly after the lifting of quarantine from Germany for people returning from parts of Europe where the Covid-19 caseload has fallen, including the Balearic archipelago, a major Spanish tourist destination that includes the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza. .

Following the decision, the airlines added hundreds of Easter holiday flights between Germany and Spain.

Laura Malone, communications director for Riu, a Spanish hotel company based in Mallorca, said there had been an “exponential increase in our bookings”. He said the company had reopened two hotels in Mallorca and that 90% of bookings came from Germans.

The response to the pandemic has also been fragmented in Spain because regional administrations, not the central government, have been setting most of the lockout rules since the summer.

Ahead of the May local elections, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the leader of the Madrid region and a member of the center-right People’s Party, took to social media to criticize the economic constraints of the socialist national government. It has encouraged foreigners to visit the capital and portray the city’s bars and shops as bastions of freedom compared to the stricter restrictions of other areas.

This past weekend, the El País newspaper published on its front page a photo of a party after the curfew at 11 p.m. on the streets of central Madrid and the images quickly spread on social media.

Politicians ruling Madrid say police are cracking down and that tourists are mostly in the city to visit the capital’s museums and opera, especially because cultural offerings are more limited in their cities.

Teresa Buquerín, who runs a hotel in the medieval town of Ayllón, expressed mixed feelings that only 25% of her rooms had been booked for Easter by now, when she would usually have domestic tourists from the capital to fill the accommodation. of. Ayllón is located about 85 miles north of Madrid, but on the other side of the regional border the inhabitants of the capital can not cross the pandemic restrictions that apply now.

“Madrid is ‘our economic engine,'” Buquerín said. “We would definitely always welcome people from Madrid, but only if they followed the same safety rules as us, which does not seem to be the case.”

After keeping her hotel closed for four months until mid-March, she added: “It would be disastrous if I had to close again the week after Easter because of a new Covid problem.”

Emma Bubola contributed reports from Rome.

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