Spain faces a crossroads this summer that is almost impossible to solve. On the one hand, the improvement of the data and the end of almost all restrictive measures were aimed at selling a pandemic under control that would launch the tourist season in style. And that’s how it was to be, until the explosion of infections among young people still unvaccinated has turned the stage. Some nearby countries, such as Germany or France, have removed Spain from the green list of places to vacation, and the Government and communities must choose whether to stop the rise with measures that affect party and restaurant tourism, or let it be. with a level of “extreme risk”.
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The accumulated incidence at 14 days touched the ground two weeks ago: 93 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Now, with 316, Spain has reached the maximum levels of risk. Experts have long warned that incidence is not the most important indicator, as long as it does not affect healthcare pressure. And this is what is happening in the so-called “youth” pandemic. An abrupt increase in cases that does not proportionally affect the data on deaths, ICUs and hospitals, although the occupation of the latter is rising slightly: from 1.96% two weeks ago to the current 2.6%. However, that does not prevent the ECDC (the European Center for Disease Control) have painted Spain red and orange. Two unflattering colors to face the tourist recovery.
“I am surprised that we continue to use incidence as an indicator to measure the pandemic,” says Antonio Sierra, professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of La Laguna. Sierra is also part of the Committee of experts that advises the Government on taking sanitary measures and de-escalation. The president, Pedro Sánchez, rejected this Wednesday the curfew raised by some of the most triggered regions, such as Castilla y León, and Health also distanced itself from general restrictions on nightlife. Antonio Sierra shares the same criteria and believes that “the only thing that this transmission will really contain is vaccination.”
Regarding nightlife, pointed out by some as the nursery for outbreaks among young people, the measures vary greatly depending on each community. Catalonia, which has registered 31,000 cases this week, has opted for a radical closure according to its epidemiological scenario, like the Valencian Community, which has also requested authorization from the Justice to return to the curfew. Cantabria has also closed pubs and discos in 16 municipalities. Navarra, which is in the middle of the week of Sanfermines, has decided to advance the closing time to 1:00 in the morning, as well as the Balearic Islands and other tourist communities that sacrifice a lot with these measures.
“This affects a type of tourism – bars and discos – but the high rates of infection affect all tourism in general”, understands Salvador Peiró, epidemiologist and researcher at FISABIO in Valencia. Of the abrupt increase that has surprised all the authorities, Peiró acknowledges that “end-of-year trips and the Sant Joan festivities have passed under the Public Health radar.” Hence, they agree on the importance of reinforcing the work of selective screening, tracking and monitoring by Primary Care. The problem is that the explosion of cases is such in Catalonia, for example, it has asked asymptomatic contacts to confine themselves due to the collapse of health centers, one of the most visible consequences of this rebound.
Advocacy as a double-edged sword
The tourism sector, like epidemiologists, does not quite understand why incidence data continues to be used if what is worrying is how it affects hospital occupancy and deaths. But since the decisions that affect us the most are imposed from outside (from the United Kingdom, France or Germany) the employers advocate not to panic and “make firm decisions.” That is to say: do not back down in just 15 days if nightlife opens and the incidence skyrockets, as has happened in Catalonia. Or vice versa.
“It is something that we have been explaining to the administrations for a long time: let’s not change the messages, because that reduces the confidence of the destination,” says Manel Casals, general director of the Gremi d’Hotels in Barcelona. “I understand that it is difficult to make decisions in this context, but it is important that if they cannot be made, they are not made. And if they can be made, they are maintained. This way we will generate security in the people.”
Vicente Pizcueta, spokesman for Spain by Night, thinks similarly. “What is happening in Spain is what happened a few weeks ago in the United Kingdom. They backed down until they saw that the evolution of the incidence was not parallel to the occupation. Why do we make the same mistake?” Pizcueta also highlights how complicated it is for companies to manage these comings and goings. “They reopen the nightlife. You convince the workers who had fled the sector to come back. And after 15 days, they close you again. It is an example of chaos.”
The look of the researcher Salvador Peiró is not very optimistic about the times either: “Restrictions will be imposed on nightlife and outdoor crowds, such as large bottles, but I doubt that we can fully control the situation on the coast until mid-August”, once the vaccination of the affected groups is advanced: from 10 to 19, and from 20 to 29 years.
In the same vein, Javier Álvarez, an epidemiological data analyst in Asturias, manifests himself. “It is not the responsibility of Health to ensure the country’s economy, there are already other delegations for that, our problem is that we do not know what interventions to do,” he acknowledges. The Asturian government adviser also explains that “the end of the exams has not been well calibrated” because the retaining wall that schools and universities represented until now has disappeared. “The key is to understand that it is not the same pandemic, for good and for bad: before its effects were more serious, but the measures were from a book and it was easy to trace the contacts,” he summarizes.
Asturias has chosen to focus on the message and the screening. The first is “positive”, of gratitude and mention of individual responsibility. “I am not in favor of giving sermons, it can even be counterproductive”, defends Álvarez. In this case, it has helped young people get involved and attend screening. “You have to go looking for them because it is more difficult to detect infections when many are asymptomatic,” he explains. That same thing, in the Canary Islands, has not worked. “We summoned 54,000 people and 1,600 attended,” says Antonio Sierra. In the end, “it implies facing a possible positive and a quarantine of 10 or 14 days” that does not convince many.
The Government hopes to receive 16.9 million tourists, half the number in 2019
Casals explains that they still do not have data on how the new restrictions on reserves have affected. In general, urban tourism is worse than the rest – “in Barcelona, the data are really bad”, they say from the Gremi, and in Madrid the bookings of the last week fell by 45% compared to 2019 – and, in the rest In Spain, the most suffering destinations are those that depend on the British, the first source market. Taking data from June 2019, with the British veto Spain stops receiving 70,000 visitors and 65 million euros a day.
In Benidorm they have been putting candles on Boris Johnson since May so that he can put us on the green list, because half of his tourists come from there. Johnson raised his hand with the Balearic Islands on June 24 and as of July 19 he will eliminate the quarantine for travelers returning from anywhere in Spain, as long as they have the complete vaccination schedule. Not only Benidorm breathes, but also places like Salou or the Canary Islands, which from then on will have to be cautious to avoid macro outbreaks similar to Mallorca. “We have to ensure security against possible infections, but we need the English to solve our economy. It is very destroyed”, recently summarized a Mallorcan hotelier consulted by elDiario.es.
In the absence of seeing how the announcements from France and Germany affect us, the data for the set of reserves across the country offers better prospects for August than for July. The sales engine for Mirai hotels has been monitoring the evolution of direct reservations for a year (those made on the hotel’s website, not through Booking or an agency) and, although it remembers that direct sales only represent a 30% of the total, observe that “August is already much better than in 2019”. The problem? That most of the reservations are made now with free cancellation, so any unexpected movement can ruin this good forecast.
The Government aims to receive 45 million tourists in 2021, just over half of the 83.5 who came in 2019, the record year. Taking into account that between January and May only 3.2 million arrived, to comply, almost 6 million would have to come a month between now and December. The Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, reiterated a few days ago that he hoped to reach 16.9 million in summer (45% of those in 2019) and stressed the need to “extend the season” because thanks to the Vaccination prospects improve from September.
“We find good and bad news at the same time. The important thing is that, as we cannot change what the outsiders do, we must work very well on the inside,” reiterates the director of the Gremi. For the spokesperson for España de Noche, creative solutions (bubble groups in nightclubs using the COVID certificate, transfer of public spaces to mount outdoor events, etc.) and communication are also key. “We are the leading power in holiday tourism and it is already the second summer that they have been charged. It makes no sense to continue betting on fear and scaremongering: there are already almost 40 million vaccines in place,” he says.
In this scenario, epidemiologists do not rely too much on the usual restrictions, also in view of what has happened with the confinement of the kids in Palma. “We work with probabilities and the judges on normative definitions, for that reason it is necessary to argue it in their language so that they give the green light to certain restrictions,” says Peiró. “We must apply restrictive measures that are harmonized with economic activity and that are effective,” defends Sierra. And not only for tourism, but also for mental and physical health.