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Delta variant drives Spain’s Covid-19 rate to highest in mainland Europe

The Delta variant of Covid-19 and a surge in infections among younger, unvaccinated people have catapulted Spain’s coronavirus rate to the highest in mainland Europe, according to Financial Times research.

Infection rates in the country have rocketed over the past week, surpassing both Portugal and Russia, with the seven-day rate almost tripling from 58 cases per 100,000 on June 29 to 156 on Tuesday. Spain still slightly lags behind Portugal on the 14-day rate more widely used in the EU.

In response to the rise, the Catalonia region — the worst affected in the country — said on Tuesday it was reintroducing restrictions on nightlife, while Castile-León called for a return to a curfew system.

Spain’s rise in infections has been fuelled by a dramatic increase among 12-29-year-olds, among whom infections are roughly 20 times as common as for the over-70s.

The Spanish government has attributed much of the rise to social gatherings — including outdoor drinking sessions where young people share bottles — and to greater mobility at a time when people are travelling within Spain on holiday. The country scrapped almost all of its national Covid restrictions in May.

Chart showing that Spain’s surge in cases is being driven by young adults

But FT research, based on random samples taken by Spanish authorities, indicates that the more infectious Delta variant now accounts for some 30 per cent of all cases and is set to become dominant around July 17. 

Spain’s trajectory is moving it closer to infection levels in the UK — which is ending coronavirus curbs on July 19 — with both countries gambling that the rise in cases among younger and largely unvaccinated people will not lead to graver problems among older, more vulnerable groups.

Chart showing that Spain’s case rate has surged to become the highest in mainland Europe

The EU country with the highest infection rate is Cyprus, with a seven-day rate of 424, while the UK, where Delta is predominant, has a rate of 267.

The jump in cases in Spain comes at a delicate time for its tourism-dependent economy, in which the months of July and August are crucial.

“We still think it is realistic to forecast that by year end we will achieve at least half the [tourism] figures of 2019,” Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, told the FT. She argued that Spain’s rising number of inoculations — 41 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated — was more significant than infection rates “to measure country risk” and that Spain remained “a safe tourist destination”.

As of last Friday, infection rates passed the threshold for classifying Spain as “red” according to EU guidelines, which means travel to and from the country should be discouraged.

“I don’t see the Delta variant as a game changer given the high vaccination rate among the vulnerable Spanish population and indeed among the British population as a whole,” said Professor Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo, an epidemiologist at the Autonomous University of Madrid. 

“It is true there are many infections, but neither here nor in the UK is it producing a relevant increase in hospitalisations. The probably very negative impact on tourism is another question,” he said.

Chart showing that the Delta variant is out-competing other variants across mainland Europe, sending cases soaring again in Spain and Portugal

The Spanish government hopes new UK rules, to be unveiled this week, will boost British tourism to mainland Spain despite the surge in cases by dispensing with quarantine requirements for the fully vaccinated.

Both Spain and Portugal reject arguments that opening up to British tourists has led to an increase in the Delta variant. Fernando Simón, the doctor helping lead Spain’s push against coronavirus, emphasised that UK tourists have to show either a negative test or vaccination documentation before entering the country. 

In Portugal, where the Delta variant accounts for 70 per cent of cases, António Costa, prime minister, argues that it arrived not from the UK but through people from the Indian subcontinent who came to work in agriculture and tourism in the country’s south.

Portugal is working to step up vaccination as new cases increase exponentially. Marta Temido, health minister, has warned the daily case number is likely to double over the next two weeks, and doctors say growing pressure on Lisbon hospitals could lead to a reduction in the number of intensive care beds available to non-Covid-19 patients.

Author: Daniel Dombey in Madrid, John Burn-Murdoch in London and Peter Wise in Lisbon
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Spain: Foreign Office travel warning for islands but mainland resorts still banned

Holidays to Spain received a moderate boost on Thursday, when the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps confirmed the Balearic Islands were to be added to the green list. This means, from Wednesday 30 June, Britons will be able to fly to and from the Balearics without quarantine.

The Spanish archipelago is home to tourist hotspots including Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca.

In line with the new traffic light update, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has amended its travel advice for Spain.

However, the bad news is, mainland Spain remains amber, with the FCDO continuing to advise against travel.

This means holidays to the likes of Benidorm, Marbella and Malaga remain on hold.

READ MORE: Flights: Jet2, easyJet, TUI, Ryanair and BA green list updates

Francina Armengol, the region’s leader, made a similar call on Twitter, urging Spanish officials to set “strict and safe entry controls” for British tourists.

There are some entry requirements in place for UK arrivals, although currently, Britons are exempt from having to prove a negative COVID-19 test or proof of being fully vaccinated.

“From 24 May, entry restrictions and testing requirements for arrivals from the UK to Spain no longer apply,” states the FCDO.

There are some exceptions to this, however, including if a traveller has been in a “risk” country within the previous 14 days.

Despite this, the laws around wearing face masks in public places are gradually being relaxed.

“From June 26, it will no longer be mandatory to wear a face mask outdoors where social distancing of 1.5 metres is observed,” explains the FCDO.

However, face mask use remains mandatory for anyone over the age of 6 years in the following circumstances:

In any enclosed space open to the public.

In any indoor space where people who are not from the same household mix

In any outdoor space where it is not possible to observe social distancing of 1.5m.

On all forms of public transport including planes, trains, trams, buses and metro, as well as all transport stations, platforms and airports.

Specific mask rules vary between regions, and penalties may be imposed for those who do not comply.

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This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Travel Feed

Greece holidays: Latest Foreign Office travel advice for mainland and Greek islands

Greece holidays were given a boost last week when the Greek Tourism Minister revealed Britons would soon be able to travel to Greece with or without the Covid vaccine. British tourists will hopefully be able to jet to Greek shores from June to enjoy a summer holiday on the mainland or on one of Greece’s stunning islands. It’s always important to stay on top of the latest travel advice when booking a holiday, however, and today the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) issued new guidance for Greece.
The FCDO continued: “The rest of Greece is split into a number of categories, with different levels of measures applying in different categories. These categories are: amber areas; red areas; and areas of heightened concern.

“All measures remain under regular review: you should keep up-to-date by checking this page regularly, and following local announcements.”

The lists can be found on the FCDO’s travel page for Greece.

Entry restrictions do apply to those entering the country.

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Britons are allowed to enter but both strict testing and quarantine measures are in place.

“If travelling by air, land or sea to Greece, you must provide evidence of a negative result from a PCR test for COVID-19 that has been conducted within the 72 hour period before your arrival time in Greece,” said the FCDO.

“Failure to do so may result in your carrier not allowing you to travel and will likely result in the Greek authorities refusing you permission to enter Greece.”

As for quarantine, the authority detailed: “In addition, arrivals into Greece from the UK by air are required to undergo a rapid COVID-19 test on arrival, and if the result is negative, self-isolate for seven days.

“If you are staying for a shorter period of time, then you will need to self-isolate until your departure day.

“If you test positive on arrival in Greece, you will have to self-isolate for at least 14 days, or until local authorities advise.”

Travellers also need to complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before they travel (both into and out of Greece).

“You must wear a face mask at all times when on an aeroplane, bus, train or ferry travelling to or from Greece; and whilst at airports,” the FCDO added.

Britons are urged not to turn to the NHS for a Covid test for travel.

“You should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country. You should arrange to take a private test,” said the FCDO.

For now, Britons cannot leave the country.

June 21 is the target date for when travel abroad can start again.