Shifting virus travel policies frustrate Spain, Portugal

Photo: AP People sunbathe on the beach in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, July 9, 2021.

Spain’s top diplomat pushed back Friday against French cautions over vacationing in the Iberian peninsula, as southern Europe’s holiday hotspots worry that repeated changes to rules on who can visit is putting people off travel.

On Thursday, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clement Beaune, advised people to “avoid Spain and Portugal as destinations” when booking their holidays because the French government is considering restrictions on travel to the Iberian neighbors, where COVID-19 infections are surging.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya, for her part, said the current surge is not translating into more hospitalisations and urged people to be “proportionate” in their response to pandemic trends.

“This is a time for prudence, not for panicking,” she said at a press conference in Madrid. “There is no reason at the moment to ask people to cancel their vacations.”

Visiting French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian still urged people to have a COVID-19 jab before travelling.

“The vaccine is the door to Spain,” he said.

Millions of tourists arriving every year in Spain and Portugal are crucial for the Iberian countries’ economies and jobs. Both hope tourism will help drive an economic recovery after the pandemic. And French tourists staying away would be a major blow.

For Iberian tourism businesses, last year was mostly a washout due to COVID-19 lockdowns and local and international travel restrictions. This year is turning out to be a wild ride, as rules have flip-flopped amid efforts to resume leisure travel.

Germany on Friday labelled the whole of Spain as a “risk area,” potentially discouraging travel there. Portugal has also been clobbered by changing rules.

Last month, Portuguese companies cheered when the country was placed on the UK’s “green list,” permitting British tourists to skip quarantine when returning home. Three weeks later, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, Portugal was axed from the list and the British market dried up.

There are hopes this could change again after July 19, when the British government scraps the requirement for people going abroad to quarantine, as long as they are fully vaccinated.

Germany this week eased its recent strict restrictions on travel to Portugal, which had disheartened the Portuguese tourism sector. Now, a negative test is enough for Germans returning from holiday to avoid quarantining.

“Everyone keeps chopping and changing their rules,” Eliderico Viegas, head of Portugal’s Algarve Hotel and Resort Association, a representative body, said. “France, and before it Germany, are good examples of that.”

Portugal, like Spain, was expecting this summer to be less bad than last year. The French minister’s comments have changed that outlook, according to Viegas.

“There’s no doubt that demand will fall now,” he told the Associated Press.

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