Did Dr. Simón not appreciate all those with jobs in tourism? | R.L.

Fernando Simón. You’ll no doubt remember him. He spoke to us every day. The director of the Centre for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, he still does speak. It’s just that we don’t pay as much attention as we used to. Is this how it is with Covid?

Fatigue with measures, fatigue with hearing the same or similar things day after day; with being presented with the same faces saying much the same thing? When they don’t say much the same thing, we do pay greater attention. At the end of July last year, Dr. Simón attracted considerable attention and considerable opprobrium. He hadn’t gone completely off-topic by any means, but there were those who suggested it might be wiser if Dr. Simón kept his views about tourism to himself.

If he didn’t have something positive to say, especially as the UK had played the quarantine card, then he should just keep quiet. The tourism industry is suffering enough without him wishing it to be done further down. Did Dr. Simón not appreciate all those with jobs in tourism?

It was actually after Belgium had got involved. That country’s government had recommended against travel to Spain. “I really appreciate that the Belgians have decided to recommend not coming to Spain. It is a problem that they are taking away from us. Less risk of importing cases. ... I understand that for the tourism sector it is better if tourists come, but from a health point of view, reducing this risk helps us in a certain way.”

Where the UK was concerned, Dr. Simón observed that “the fact that the United Kingdom demands quarantine for anyone who returns from Spain does us a favour in one respect, as it discourages people from coming from the UK”. Dr. Simón had thanked other countries for dissuading its citizens. This was how it was reported. Thanked them. How dare he. What did he know about tourism? He’s an epidemiologist.

He made these statements at a time when it was becoming clear that things - health data things - were going wrong. And they were to get considerably worse and very quickly. Dr. Simón was chastised for willing the ruin of the season, when in fact the season was managing to do this anyway. Cases were zooming up again.

From the point of view of tourism, his remarks were not helpful. But were they wrong? Yes and no. Yes, because it was clear that the virus was starting to get out of control again. No, because there is indeed a time to speak and a time to stay silent. The end of July last year was such a time. Tourism - workers, businesses, and indeed tourists - had held such high hopes in June. These were now being threatened, as therefore was the morale of tourism.

What Dr. Simón was not doing last summer was making any observations about tourism per se, about the merits or otherwise of tourism, about the tourism model of the past, present and future. He would have been way off-topic had he done so. Instead, he has left it to others to speak, such as the vice-president of the Balearics, Juan Pedro Yllanes.

In an interview the other day, Yllanes stated that “we will never again return to the tourist figures for 2019, and I believe that this is good news because the sustainability of the islands had been placed in serious danger”. He went on to speak about diversification, a new economic model and the use of EU Next Generation funds to hasten an era of digitalisation and of creating quality employment.

Things we have heard said so often, but it was of course the bit about the tourist figures that raised the hackles. How could he say such a thing right at the moment, when jobs in tourism are so threatened? He admitted that the time might not have been the most appropriate but insisted that everyone is saying that there has to be a diversification of the tourism model, that it will be a lost opportunity if it is not taken now, courtesy of the Next Generation funds.

He isn’t wrong in saying that everyone is saying it, and this includes opposition parties and many within the tourism industry. But there are ways of saying it and, as importantly, times for saying it. A colleague of Yllanes in Unidas Podemos, Spain’s consumer affairs minister, Alberto Garzón, last summer provoked great amounts of criticism when he spoke about the low value added of tourism.

When one took the time to assess what Garzón said, it was difficult to disagree with him. The problem was that he had said it when he did - in the midst of the worst crisis imaginable for tourism. Like Yllanes now, he was criticised for being a left-wing politician who seemed only too willing to talk down employment.

Yllanes appreciates the apparent bad timing of his comments. But when is a good time? If you have something to say about tourism, say nothing; not now at any rate. This appears to be the message. But is it the correct one?