Spain restricts flights from Brazil and South Africa due to coronavirus strains

Government asks regional leaders not to rush into lifting measures as pandemic continues to produce new infection and fatality highs

Spanish government spokesperson María Jesús Montero.POOL / EP

Spain has announced restrictions on inbound flights from Brazil and South Africa in a bid to stop the spread of new strains of the coronavirus detected in those countries.

The measure goes into effect at 9am on Wednesday and will last at least two weeks. Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero said that the only flights to Spain allowed from those countries will be those carrying passengers who are either citizens or residents of Spain or Andorra, or passengers in transit with stopovers of under 24 hours who will not be able to leave the airport transit area.

The announcement comes as the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic continues to produce new epidemiological records across the Spanish territory.

On Tuesday, the northeastern region of Galicia reported 40 single-day fatalities, the highest figure since the pandemic began. In the southern region of Andalusia, that figure was 107, also a new peak since the beginning of the pandemic.

In the Mediterranean province of Alicante (alicante airport), the 14-day incidence rate has soared to 2,597 cases per 100,000 people, twice the average for the whole of the Valencia region (1,352), according to the regional daily Diario Información citing Valencian health department figures. This is three times the national average of 865 cases per 100,000, which is already far higher than the threshold for what is considered an extreme risk scenario.

We can’t be in a rush with the deescalation. I am not addressing any region in particular In seven regions of Spain, Covid-19 patients now occupy over 50% of intensive care beds, with that figure rising to over 60% in La Rioja, the Valencia region and the North Africa exclave city of Melilla.

On Tuesday, María Jesús Montero insisted on the need to keep up the restrictions. “The epidemiological situation will have to be assessed regularly to adjust schedules and mobility,” she said after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “We can’t be in a rush with the deescalation. I am not addressing any region in particular.”

In Madrid, regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso defended her strategy of keeping food and drink establishments open, a decision that other regional leaders have questioned in recent days, including some from her own Popular Party (PP). “I cannot engage in confrontation with other regional leaders,” she said. “The Madrid economy works in a certain way, and those of other regions have other peculiarities.”

Also in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez has tested positive for coronavirus, said the club in a statement, adding that Pérez “has no symptoms.”

Health Minister Carolina Darias on Monday urged regional governments to expand their coronavirus measures in order to “bring down the numbers faster.” Under the current state of alarm approved by parliament in October, regions are in charge of introducing their own restrictions, and each one has adopted different systems, with an overnight curfew being the only nationwide measure in place.

Fiestas cancelled

Pamplona will not be holding its Running of the Bulls this year. The regional premier of Navarre, María Chivite, said on Tuesday that the July event “will not be possible.”

“It wouldn’t be a responsible attitude on my part to fuel hopes of something that I think is not going to be possible,” she said. The world-famous fiesta, which attracts large crowds each year, was cancelled in 2020 as well due to coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile the mayor of Valencia, Joan Ribó, said that the city’s renowned Fallas festival, which involves pyrotechnics and giant burning sculptures, will not be held in the first half of the year, but that “I cannot assert that there won’t be any Fallas at all in 2021.” And the regional premier Ximo Puig ruled out the possibility of travel for the Easter holidays because “we are still in an extremely serious situation” and “we cannot send out a message of relaxation.”

Vaccination campaign

Despite shipment delays, the vaccination campaign is still underway. Around 91% of doses that were delivered to regional governments have been administered, according to Health Ministry data. Some regional leaders on Tuesday reiterated their wish to immunize a majority of the population by summer, but said this will depend on timely deliveries.

“We could vaccinate 70% of the population, but we need for the vaccines to arrive,” said Patricia Gómez, the chief of the health department of the Balearic Islands, inside the regional parliament.

The Spanish Health Ministry is considering whether to administer the coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca to people 65 and over. Fernando Simón, the head of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), said it is highly likely that Spain will not recommend this medication for this age group, citing “insufficient available data” and mirroring a similar decision by Germany.

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