One feels for all businesses affected by the virus, but there are some which one feels for in particular. Jet2 is one such. A well-run airline and tour operator and a great supporter of Mallorca, even Jet2’s boundless optimism - “2021 is shaping up to be a fantastic year”, as reported last week in this column - can stretch only so far. The plug has been pulled on everything until March 25, operations to the Balearics and Spain having previously been suspended to February 11.
By March 25, more than a year will have passed since it all started, and no one - if they are being honest - can say when there will be a genuine restart, a reactivation that isn’t stuttering and that can halt almost immediately as it begins, which is what happened last summer. The difference now is the vaccine, but this throws up as many questions as answers, the pace of vaccination programmes being just one of them. Tui’s Fritz Joussen has said that the vaccine will mean that restrictions are unnecessary.
Joussen is also an optimist, but he isn’t a virologist, an epidemiologist or a politician. He doesn’t know, only hope that he knows, and the mood music in Mallorca this week hasn’t been in harmony with Tui’s tunes. Maria Frontera, the president of the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, was to the point. “Nobody knows when the season is going to start, either in the other regions or in the Balearics.” Frontera is under no illusion - all the Covid protocols will still need to be applied, as and when the season does start. These, along with the vaccination, will enable safe corridors.
All that Balearic tourism minister Iago Negueruela can say is that the Balearics will be a safe destination, regardless of what the level of vaccination is. The coming season will coexist with the virus and with the vaccination process and at the same time guarantee safe tourism. In early December, Negueruela expressed the view that the season will start at the end of March (in time for Easter). Jet2’s rescheduling echoes this, but one doubts that Steve Heapy and his management are basing their decisions on anything else other than hope.
Restrictions will continue. The language of both Frontera and Negueruela indicates this. Coexistence with the virus means managing the virus, regardless of vaccination. Meanwhile, Negueruela cannot neglect the fact that, right now, the Balearics cannot be classified as a safe destination; not with the incidence rate as it currently is. How long will it take to bring this down to something approaching acceptable? Does the minister know? One doubts it.
Everyone is thrashing around in the dark because they don’t have answers. They can have guesses, they can whistle in the dark to keep up spirits with observations such as restrictions being unnecessary. But these defy the realities, as we understand them here and now.
Vaccination, but not with travel discrimination
There is plenty of hedging of bets, an example of which is the likely extension of ERTE to the end of May. The Spanish government will want to see how things develop. This is understandable, even if it doesn’t satisfy the demands from various sources in the tourism industry for ERTE to be available for the whole of 2021. By May, a far clearer picture should emerge, and following this line, the German government’s commissioner for tourism, Thomas Bareiss, said on Monday that “the situation will be better again” from May.
But so much will depend on the vaccine, and in this regard the CEO of Meliá, Gabriel Escarrer, took to Twitter earlier this week in calling for a much more rapid programme. “Spain needs to vaccinate 300,000 people a day in order to achieve minimal normality in summer.” He wants to see a national vaccination plan and a public-private pact for managing it.
There is meant to be a national vaccination strategy. It was announced in November, when Pedro Sánchez referred to there being 13,000 vaccination points in the country - the health centres. But the programme, as we know only too well in Mallorca, is being rolled out painfully slowly, while many of the vaccination points - so sources from primary care suggest - are not appropriate as there isn’t the space and there aren’t the resources. Gabriel Escarrer would no doubt prefer that the Palacio de Congresos were to be a temporary mass vaccination location rather than the Meliá Palma Bay Hotel being recommissioned as a temporary hospital.
The World Travel & Tourism Council has meanwhile urged that there is no discrimination against people who want to travel but who haven’t been vaccinated. For now, the WTTC is defending the use of tests which show that passengers don’t have coronavirus, but how close are we to vaccination certification being at least one tool for restoring freedom of movement?
The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has sent a letter to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in which he proposes that there be certification to allow safe and free movement within the EU. While Mitsotakis says that Greece doesn’t envisage that this would be a mandatory requirement, he nevertheless argues that those who have been vaccinated “should be free to move”, and freedom of movement within the Schengen zone is “a necessity and a top priority for all of us”.
A mandatory requirement? Not yet, but in the future?