MADRID/VALENCIA – Tourism-dependent Spain aims to reopen borders to visitors around the end of June as its coronavirus lockdown fully unwinds, a minister said on Monday, in a much-needed boost for the ravaged travel sector.
Madrid last week surprised its European Union partners by imposing a two-week quarantine on all overseas travellers and effectively keeping borders closed, saying that was needed to avoid importing a second wave of the COVID-19 disease.
But the move was meant to be temporary and Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos said it would be phased out in parallel with travel being allowed within Spain, whose regions are easing restrictions in different phases.
“We can’t allow foreigners to travel while the Spanish population is confined,” he told TVE broadcaster.
“From late June, we’ll start the tourism activity, I hope … We must make Spain an attractive country from the health point of view.”
Tourism accounts for over 12% of Spain’s economic output. Even with a reopening of borders in late June, the industry’s revenues will fall by between 93 billion ($100 billion) and 124 billion euros ($134 billion), lobby group Exceltur estimated in a report last month.
One of the worst-hit nations with 27,650 deaths and 231,350 infections, Spain is slowly easing a strict lockdown in place since mid-March which had meant for weeks people could not even go out for exercise.
Restaurants and bars were gradually reopening – even though staff knew customers would be scarce.
In the Mediterranean city of Valencia, restaurant manager Cristina Gonzalo and her staff were out early preparing their beachside bar. Dressed in white shirt and matching mask, a waiter painstakingly measured out space between tables to ensure they conform with social-distancing requirements.
Gonzalo said she had doubts about the reopening but was happy to be helping staff, who had been furloughed under the government’s temporary layoff program.
“They did not receive the money to shop for essentials and they were desperate,” she said.
The epidemic has put health services under severe stress and battered the economy, which could shrink between 9.5-12.4% this year, followed by a 6.1-8.5% bounce back in 2021, Bank of Spain governor Pablo Hernandez de Cos said.
Unemployment rose sharply in March and April, pushing the number of people depending on unemployment benefits to a record 5.2 million.
Including furloughed workers and people on medical leave, as many as 7 million people are depending on the state, almost 30% of the working population, according to data that Spain sent to Brussels in early May.
In a change from the previous morning time, the government was to announce the latest 24-hour tally of coronavirus cases and fatalities at around 5 pm (1500 GMT) from Monday onwards.