Spain’s Balearic Islands joins UK’s Covid green list from Wednesday

The easing of restrictions on UK travellers heading to the Balearics has prompted elation among officials and businesses in the islands, even as an outbreak of 394 coronavirus cases among Spanish students who had recently travelled to Mallorca highlighted the risks of opening up.

On Thursday, Britain’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that the Spanish archipelago was among the territories added to the UK’s green list as of next Wednesday, meaning travellers will not need to quarantine when returning to the UK.

Last month Spain began allowing British travellers into the country without the need to provide a negative Covid test, a move that sharply contrasts with the growing push by EU 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, relied heavily on British tourism, with some 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 had travelled to Mallorca earlier this month.

Spain’s health ministry said they were closely monitoring the situation, adding: “To date we are aware of 394 cases of Covid-19 associated with end-of-year trips.”

Officials and businesses in the Balearics celebrated the UK’s decision to put the islands on the green list. “For us it’s like a rebirth,” said Javier Pascuet, the director of tourism for the municipality of Calvià, which includes Magaluf. “We only have 40% of hotels open.”

He stressed that authorities would be diligent in cracking down on parties, crowds and any other behaviours that could risk exacerbating the pandemic. “Holidays are about being laid back but we cannot afford to have our numbers go up again,” he said.

The lesson was laid bare last year after images emerged of drunk, maskless tourists flouting social distancing norms as they partied in Mallorca. Authorities responded swiftly, shutting down Magaluf’s notorious Punta Ballena strip.

While the strip has now reopened, the region has put in place rules prohibiting dancing, both indoors or outdoors, and which require drinks ordered in restaurants and bars to be consumed while sitting at a table. “We’re going to be watching very carefully,” said Pascuet.

In the confederation that represents business associations in the Balearics, known as CAEB, there was little worry that the arrival of British tourists would deter German holidaymakers, who rank as the other major source country for tourists to the region.

On Wednesday the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the EU should require travellers from the UK to quarantine upon arrival after forecasts suggested the Delta variant could swell to 90% of cases across the bloc in the coming months.

German and British tourists often are drawn to different parts of the islands, said Carmen Planas of the confederation. “For example in Palma beach, most are Germans. In Magaluf, most are British. Ibiza sees more Britons and fewer Germans.”

She brushed off concerns over the Delta variant, pointing to the more than 77% of residents over the age of 40 who have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Juan Manuel Ordinas, who leads an association representing small hotels, described the green-list status as excellent news.

While he acknowledged there was a generalised worry about Covid among many in the region, he pointed out that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the tourist-dependent islands, forcing the shutdown of Ibiza’s world-famous nightclubs last year, ushering in severe restrictions on restaurants and shops and sending the region’s GDP plunging some 25% in 2020.

In the case of Ordinas, the plunge in tourism has meant one of the two hotels he owns has remains closed. Of his staff of 20, there’s only enough work to sustain five and a half jobs.

“There’s a point where you have to be realistic,” he said. “We only have July, August and September left. That’s three months to make what you would normally make in six months.”

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