MADRID • Spain is scrambling to stay ahead of new outbreaks of the coronavirus that prompted Britain to impose a quarantine on travellers returning from the country, dealing a new blow to its tourism-dependent economy.
The Spanish government said yesterday that in spite of the recent surge in cases, the situation there is “under control”. “The Spanish government considers that the situation is under control, the outbreaks have been located, isolated and controlled,” the Foreign Ministry told Agence France-Presse.
“Spain is a safe country.”
The statement comes in response to countries that have recently announced travel restrictions on Spain following a spike in cases, particularly in the Catalonia region, where the authorities are racing to stamp out new outbreaks.
Only weeks after Britain included Spain on a list of countries safe for summer holidays, the British government reversed course and announced on Saturday that it would impose a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from Spain.
Norway announced last Friday a 10-day quarantine for people returning from Spain, and France issued new travel warnings for the Catalonia region, which is home to Barcelona and popular beaches.
The moves will further weigh on bookings in the peak travel period for a country that depends on tourism for more than 10 per cent of its gross domestic product.
Spain reported nearly a thousand new cases a day on both Thursday and Friday, the highest numbers since early May, when the Spanish government began easing one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
Its number of cases has tripled in two weeks, while more than 280 homes are being closely monitored by the authorities.
“We are quite frustrated. We actually feel safer here because everyone is wearing masks,” Ms Carolyne Lansell, a British tourist, said in an interview with Spanish state-television broadcaster TVE.
Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe by the coronavirus and has already suffered 28,432 fatalities, the fourth-highest tally in Europe after Britain, Italy and France.
However, an investigation by El Pais newspaper published yesterday said Spain’s Covid-19 death toll could be nearly 60 per cent higher than the official figure.
By counting regional statistics of all suspected and confirmed fatalities from the virus, El Pais reached a total of 44,868 deaths.
If accurate, that would make Spain’s outbreak the second deadliest in Europe after Britain’s.
A national lockdown started in March had largely tamed the spread of Covid-19, but the easing of those restrictions and the start of the summer tourism season have contributed to an uptick, particularly among young people frequenting crowded bars and clubs.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea were praying that a glimpse of tourism would get them through the summer before the cold snap drives people indoors and ushers in a second chapter to the pandemic. Now, it appears the spread of the virus may not wait for the winter months.
Governments have been bracing themselves for a second wave, though there is little appetite for reimposing large-scale lockdowns on already crippled economies.
The hope is that localising quarantines to towns, cities and regions will be enough to snuff out bouts of infections as they come.
Italy was the first Western democracy to quarantine the entire population as it became apparent its death toll was going to overtake that of China. A person close to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described that decision as “shock therapy” that cannot be repeated.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex was equally blunt, saying: “We won’t survive, economically and socially.”
With the world facing its worst recession since the Great Depression and United States President Donald Trump fighting for re-election in November, voters are on edge. Politicians of all stripes are looking for ways to ease the pain – not add to it – as fear morphs into anger and discontent.
“Populations can be summoned to heroic acts of collective self-sacrifice for a while, but not forever,” political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine. “A lingering epidemic combined with deep job losses, a prolonged recession and an unprecedented debt burden will inevitably create tensions that turn into a political backlash, but against whom is as yet unclear.”
The political calculus is to try and ride it out. Yet, while efforts to get people back to stores, restaurants, bars and hairdressers demonstrate the urgency among governments of reviving economies, they also show the risks.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE