The easing of restrictions on British travelers to the Balearic Islands has sparked excitement among island officials and businesses, even as an outbreak of 394 coronavirus cases among Spanish students who had recently traveled to Mallorca has highlighted the risks of openness.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that the Spanish archipelago is among the territories added to the UK’s green list from next Wednesday, meaning travelers won’t need to check out quarantine on their return to the UK.
Last month, Spain started allowing British travelers to enter the country without needing to provide a negative Covid test, a move that stands in stark contrast to growing pressure from European leaders to tighten restrictions on British tourists.
The 14-day infection rate in the Balearics is among the lowest in Spain, at 48 per 100,000 inhabitants. Before the pandemic, the islands, which also include Ibiza and Menorca, depended heavily on British tourism, with around 3.7 million holidaymakers arriving in 2019.
The region’s green list status was declared hours after several regions in Spain began sounding the alarm over clusters of coronavirus cases among high school students who traveled to Mallorca earlier this month .
Spain’s health ministry said it was monitoring the situation closely, adding: “To date, we are aware of 394 cases of Covid-19 associated with year-end travel.”
Authorities and businesses in the Balearic Islands celebrated the UK’s decision to put the islands on the green list. “For us, it’s like a rebirth,” said Javier Pascuet, director of tourism for the municipality of Calvià, of which Magaluf is a part. “We only have 40% of the hotels open.
He stressed that authorities would be diligent in cracking down on parties, crowds and any other behavior that could risk exacerbating the pandemic. “Holidays are about relaxing, but we cannot afford to see our numbers increase again,” he said.
The lesson was laid bare last year after images of drunken, maskless tourists surfaced flouting social distancing standards as they partied in Mallorca. The authorities reacted quickly, shutting down the famous Punta Ballena strip in Magaluf.
While the Strip has now reopened, the region has put in place rules that ban dancing, indoors and out, and that require drinks ordered in restaurants and bars to be consumed seated at the table. “We will be watching very carefully,” said Pascuet.
In the confederation that represents the professional associations of the Balearic Islands, known as CAEB, there was little fear that the arrival of British tourists would deter German holidaymakers, who rank as the other major country of origin for tourists in the region. region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said the EU should require travelers from the UK to self-quarantine upon arrival after forecasts suggested the Delta variant could swell to 90% of cases across the block in the coming months.
German and British tourists are often drawn to different parts of the islands, said Carmen Planas of the confederation. “For example on the beach in Palma, most are Germans. In Magaluf, most are British. Ibiza sees more Britons and fewer Germans.
She allayed concerns about the Delta variant, highlighting the more than 77% of residents over 40 who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Juan Manuel Ordinas, who heads an association representing small hotels, called green list status excellent news.
While he acknowledged that there was widespread concern about Covid among many in the region, he pointed out that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on tourism-dependent islands, forcing the closure of world-famous nightclubs in the region. Ibiza last year, ushering in severe restrictions on restaurants and shops and slashing the region’s GDP by around 25% in 2020.
In the case of Ordinas, the plunge in tourism has caused one of the two hotels it owns to remain closed. Of its 20 employees, there is only enough work to maintain five and a half jobs.
“There comes a time when you have to be realistic,” he said. “We only have July, August and September left. It’s been three months to do what you would normally do in six months.