Coronavirus: Spain welcomes tourists back as emergency ends

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Tourists on a beach in Majorca, 21 Jun 20Image source, Reuters
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Tourists are starting to flock to Majorca again

Spain has lifted its state of emergency, reopening its borders to visitors from most of Europe and allowing British tourists in without having to quarantine.

For three months Spain has been under one of Europe's toughest lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez warned that hygiene controls must be observed strictly, despite the easing.

Spain's Covid-19 death toll stands at 28,322 - the third-highest in the EU.

The state of emergency was decreed on 14 March, and for several weeks people could not go out to exercise and children were not allowed to leave their homes for any reason.

Spain normally attracts 80 million tourists a year, with tourism providing more than 12% of the country's GDP.

Opening up the holiday market again before the summer season is over is seen as crucial to the Spanish economy.

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Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya: "British visitors can arrive freely and without the need for quarantine"

Arrivals will have their temperature taken at the airport, state if they have had the virus and provide contact details. Spain is opening up again to the rest of the EU and Schengen zone countries outside the EU.

And now Spaniards can once again enjoy unrestricted travel in their own country.

But social distancing rules remain in place: people have to stay 1.5m (5ft) apart in public, wear masks in shops and on public transport, where that rule cannot always be kept, and clean their hands frequently.

"We must remain on our guard and strictly follow hygiene and protection measures," said Mr Sánchez.

He warned of the risk of a second coronavirus wave, "which must be avoided at all costs".

Spain's land border with Portugal remains shut until 1 July, at Portugal's request.

As Spain lifted its travel restrictions for many foreigners, Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport was still relatively quiet. Only Terminal 4 was operating, with a limited roster of flights.

But many of those who came through the arrivals lounge were happy to be in Spain. "It's very special, it's three and a half months since I've been here!" said Martina, a Swiss woman who lives in Madrid who had travelled on a flight from Zurich.

Spain has been easing restrictions for its own citizens for several weeks and the country's three-month lockdown has now ended with the lifting of the national state of emergency.

In central Madrid there was little noticeable difference in the atmosphere. Many bars and restaurants have been open for some weeks and in and around the city's famous Plaza Mayor, a number of them were busy with customers ordering tapas and wine.

However, many hotels in Madrid and other tourist-oriented cities remain closed as they await the return of international tourists in larger numbers.

British-owned properties

Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told the BBC that there would no longer be a two-week quarantine for British tourists. Spain is still in discussions over whether the UK will reciprocate.

But she said Spain's move was "out of respect for the 400,000 British citizens who have second residences in Spain" and who are "dying to benefit" from them.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Spanish airports remind visitors they must wear a face mask

In recent weeks Spain has been gradually easing restrictions, like its EU neighbours, reopening businesses and public spaces such as parks.

Guillermo Umbria, a Madrid resident, said ending the state of emergency was "very positive for society in general". "We should try to get back to normal as soon as possible, because the economic crisis is going to be very shocking for everyone. Especially for many sectors like hotels, tourism."

France goes back to school

In France millions of children are preparing to go back to school on Monday, for the last few weeks before the summer holidays, having spent about three months at home.

Classes are reopening for all pupils in primary and secondary schools up to the age of 15, though there has been limited attendance by some groups of children in recent weeks.

France is also reopening cinemas from Monday and stadiums for team sports.

Meanwhile, in Italy long-awaited Serie A football matches resumed on Saturday, after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

According to the latest official figures, Italy's death toll is 34,610 - the second-highest in Europe after the UK's 42,461 - and France's toll is 29,633. The figures have to be treated with some caution, however, as countries vary in the way they calculate deaths from Covid-19.