Spain is fighting to save its ailing tourism industry after the UK government imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from the country.
Government officials insist the virus is under control and want certain areas to be exempt from Britain’s self-isolation order, including the Balearic Islands.
Around 18 million Britons traveled to Spain in 2019, almost a quarter of all arrivals to the country.
But young Minister of Health Helen Whately defended quarantine.
Ms Whately told the BBC that after all the ‘sacrifices’ made during the lockdown, the UK couldn’t risk returning to a situation of rising virus rates across the country.
Spain’s infection rate has jumped in recent days.
While the epidemic remains under control in many parts of Spain, parts of the country – particularly Catalonia in the northeast and the neighboring region of Aragon – have seen a huge spike in infections.
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According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the country has recorded 39.4 cases per 100,000 population in the past two weeks.
The UK and neighboring France both have a figure of 14.6 infections per 100,000 population.
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Local authorities have issued stay-at-home orders for some four million people in Catalonia, including the regional capital Barcelona. On Monday, Catalan President Quim Torra said he could impose even stricter lockdown measures if the number of infections did not improve in the next 10 days.
“We are facing the most important 10 days of summer,” he said. The region recorded 5,487 infections last week compared to 3,485 the previous week, Torra told reporters, adding that the situation was “very critical”.
But Mr Torra also assured people that the area remains safe for tourists. Speaking in English, the regional leader said “action has been taken” and people “can visit most of the region in safety”.
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Spain imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe in March to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The strict restrictions helped reduce the infection rate, but also seriously damaged the economy – especially the tourism industry.
Tourism accounts for around 11% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and a large number of visitors come from the UK.
As a result, the country desperately wanted to bring back visitors to help revive struggling towns and resorts.
Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said on Monday the government was working with British authorities to exclude the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands from quarantine, both regions with low infection rates.
“What we would like is for quarantines to be lifted as soon as possible on the islands, and we hope it will be today rather than tomorrow,” she reportedly said.
Other leaders have criticized the UK decision as disproportionate, given the low rate of infections in many parts of the country.
Ximo Puig, leader of the Valencia region, told a local radio station that “our epidemiological data is better than that of the UK”, and said the quarantine order was “not justified”.
How has the pandemic affected the country?
Spain has been hit hard by the global pandemic. The latest figures released on Friday show the country had confirmed 272,421 cases and 28,432 deaths.
However, there are fears that the death toll is much higher. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Sunday that the real toll could be 60% higher than the Health Ministry figures.
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Nationally, Spain only includes deaths of people who tested positive for the virus.
Including regional figures of those suspected of having Covid-19, El Pais calculated a total of 44,868 deaths.
If confirmed, it would mean Spain has the second highest death toll in Europe – just behind the UK, which has recorded 45,837 deaths.
Spain’s health ministry insisted it followed international protocols for counting deaths.