Spain’s Balearic Islands are to allow thousands of German holidaymakers to fly in for a two-week trial to test how to balance the needs of Spain’s vital tourism industry with new regulations to curb coronavirus.
The trial begins on June 15, before the archipelago and the rest of the country reopen to international tourism on July 1.
The Spanish government is under heavy pressure to reactivate an industry that generates 12% of Spain’s GDP and provides 2.6 million jobs.
Through an agreement with German tour group Tui, other tour operators and several airlines, up to 10,900 Germans will be allowed into the archipelago, its president Francina Armengol said.
That represents only 0.41% of the visitors the Mediterranean islands welcomed in the second half of June last year. The islands, which include Majorca, Ibiza and Menorca, are a magnet for northern European visitors and others seeking sunny beaches, rocky coves and nightlife.
“We will be the first region (in Spain) to open to international tourism under safe conditions,” said Ms Armengol, adding that Germany had been chosen because its government has kept tight controls on its outbreak, just like the Balearic Islands.
Germany’s virus death toll — at 8,695 — is about five times less than Britain’s and four times less than Italy’s.
The visitors this month can come from all over Germany and can purchase tickets on a first-come basis until the maximum number of 10,900 is reached.
No previous health checks are required to travel but all visitors will need to complete a questionnaire during their flight aimed at identifying possible infections. They will be exempt from Spain’s rule that visitors need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
They will be able to stay, for a minimum of five nights, at designated hotels, tourism apartments and their own houses in the islands.
As they get off the plane, they will face temperature checks and get information on Spain’s social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
Health authorities will also give them a phone number in case they show symptoms, with strict contact tracing planned and tests for suspected cases and their close contacts.
Spanish authorities imposed a strict lockdown in mid-March that helped curb its outbreak. The country has recorded more than 240,000 positive cases and over 23,000 confirmed virus-related deaths.
Spain’s move came as Greece said it will gradually lift all restrictions on Italian tourists entering the country by the end of the month.
Foreign minister Nikos Dendias, speaking after meeting his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio, said the decision was taken based on the improving situation regarding the spread of the virus in Italy.
Rome had been angered by its exclusion from a list of 29 countries whose citizens Athens had initially announced would be allowed into Greece from June 15 without compulsory coronavirus tests or quarantines.
The Greek government later clarified tourists would be allowed to enter without restrictions if they arrived from airports — rather than countries — that were not on a European air safety agency list of those considered high risk regarding the virus.
In Cyprus, an Israeli airliner with 22 passengers aboard became the first commercial flight to touch down after the east Mediterranean country reopened its airports following an 11-week ban aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Israel is among a group of 19 countries with low infection rates from which Cyprus is now permitting commercial flights.
Arriving passengers must secure health certificates declaring them coronavirus-free three days before departure.
The requirement is set to expire on June 20 for people coming from 13 of those countries, including Greece, Finland, Norway and Germany.