Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Spain has followed Italy with a difference for a week. Measures taken in each country to slow the plague, such as school closures, declarations of alarms and total economic closures, have been harmonized until now.
While Italy has reactivated almost all business activities in the country and will open its borders for tourists on June 3, the Spanish government decided on a more cautious route. Under Spain’s de-escalation plan, travel within the country will not be permitted until at least the end of June. Health authorities have indicated that summer vacation season will begin later this year and focus on domestic tourism – not international. Indeed, Spain has not set a date to reopen its borders for tourists, and has recently introduced a Quarantine 14 days for international travelers, which will take effect until at least 7 June, at this time alarm state set to end.
The Spanish government chose not to follow the Italian example because it believed the move was premature, according to an executive source. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has expressed his concern for several of his aides. “Italy has gone too fast. Hopefully this will work for them, but they take a lot of risks, “he told them.
There is great pressure from the two countries’ tourism industry. But where the Italian government has decided to risk opening its borders to reduce economic downfall from the crisis, Spain believes the threat of a surge in new coronavirus cases is too high. Spain, in fact, has reported slightly better coronavirus numbers over the past few days. On Monday, for example, there were 256 new cases in Spain and 451 in Italy, while daily deaths were 59 and 99, according to World Health Organization (WHO) records. As of Thursday, the total number of victims in Spain reached 27,999, compared to 32,007 in Italy. Spain has a smaller population than Italy, with 47 million people compared to 60 million.
The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has prioritized the country’s economic recovery over health issues against the recommendations of several government epidemiologists. The de-escalation process in Italy has also been carried out left in the hands of regional authorities. This is in sharp contrast to Spain, where the central government controls where and when restrictions on confinement are reduced. This allows the government to ensure that only areas judged by health experts who are ready to move to the next stage can do so, but also cause a fierce battle with the local government of Madrid, which has taken the struggle to move to Phase 1 to the Supreme Court.
But sources from La Moncloa, the seat of government in Spain, say that it is better to suffer economic effects of lockdown a little longer than the risk of a surge of new cases which will lead to new containment actions and completely destroy the tourism industry. “In Italy there is a lot of pressure from the tourism sector. Here too, but we choose to be careful. They assume a very high risk, “explained a member of the government. “In tourism, you are betting on your reputation. We want to be considered a safe destination again. And to do that, there is nothing better than avoiding a step back that will destroy our image. “
Another member of the Spanish Cabinet agreed: “It makes no sense to make a bet just a few more weeks. We have our de-escalation plan and we will maintain it […] There will be no movement between the provinces until they all go through all phases […] No one will understand why a Spaniard cannot visit their mother in Galicia while a German citizen can go to their home in Mallorca. It will not happen. “
According to government sources, Sánchez was visibly upset when a cabinet member mentioned the pressure to speed up the de-escalation process. “We are all under pressure. We are here to reject it. The absolute priority is to reduce transmission rates, “he said at a meeting.
Pressure comes not only from the tourism sector, but also from other European governments. Thousands of German, British, French and Belgian citizens own homes in Spain. But some of these countries, especially Britain, are still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. If a resident from outside Spain triggers a new wave of coronavirus infection, the problem will fall to the Spanish government, explain government sources.
“We defend our interests. If there is a problem in Mallorca or Alicante or Málaga or Madrid, it will not be resolved by the governments of Germany, France or Britain. This will be our problem. And the blow to Spain’s image can be permanent, “said a member of the Spanish government.
“This is not a matter of closing the country under lock,” added a minister. “Nobody wants that. We all want to reopen. But we must protect de-escalation, and most importantly, ourselves as ends. Don’t forget that 80 million people visit us every year. “
Members of the government consulted by EL PAÍS do not deny that another reason to avoid reopening the border is the current political atmosphere. One wrong step would be fatal for the Sánchez government, which is increasingly faced with hot attacks from opposition groups and protests. All this has caused the government to take one of them the toughest position in the deescalation process in Europe. It will soon be revealed who made the right call for the most difficult decision of the crisis: when to enter a new normality.
English version by Melissa Kitson.
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