Cast your minds back to the sudden announcement of the UK government’s reintroduction of quarantine for travellers from Spain (including the Balearics), and you will recall that there was much comment which suggested that the decision was for reasons other than health. Gabriel Escarrer of Meliá was one who believed that the decision was political. The Balearic president, Francina Armengol, hinted at other motivations but was less explicit.
On the Bulletin’s Facebook page, a majority of comments tended to back up the view that the quarantine was not solely a health decision (if at all).
So, there was a general perception that while parts of Spain were unquestionably experiencing increases in infection rates, there were others - notably the Balearics and the Canaries - which were not. These regions were therefore being penalised by an across-the-board decision.
I bring this up because of an article that has appeared this week in the Palma-based tourism/travel magazine Hosteltur. This revisits the UK quarantine decision and is of the view that it was a political matter and not a scientific one. It is arguably irrelevant to now be considering the decision, given that it was taken over a month ago, but there are, I believe, points to take into account which offer a more balanced view of that decision.
I was one of those who felt that other motives were at play at the time, and if one considers the all-important data, it was clear that the Balearics had a strong case for having argued that the decision was unfair. The announcement by the Foreign Office was made on July 25. This was four weeks after the UK had stated that it would be lifting its previous quarantine (the lifting came into effect on July 4).
What was not well understood was the UK’s threshold of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants (twenty) that was established following the lifting of the quarantine. Whereas the German threshold of fifty was well understood, the UK’s, as far as I can recall, was barely mentioned, if at all. Nevertheless, the threshold existed.
In the week leading up to the July 25 announcement, the rate per 100,000 inhabitants for a seven-day period in the Balearics was around five. Here, therefore, was justification on health grounds for disputing the fairness of the decision. However, and as I remarked at the time, there would have been concerns about the potential importing of cases, especially from Catalonia, and of the potential for a growing trend in regions that were comparatively unaffected. The UK government would have been aware of this.
If one goes forward six days from when the announcement was made, on July 31 the Balearic health ministry reported 81 new cases. What had been a daily average of around seven only a week before had now suddenly shot up. It didn’t take long for the 20 per 100,000 mark to be breached or indeed for this figure to start edging up to the point that there were worries about what the German government might do.
Given what was the rapid growth in cases, can it be argued, with the benefit of hindsight, that the UK acted pre-emptively rather than precipitously in including the Balearics? Perhaps so, a point being that the decision would have been taken in any event and not that long after the July 25 announcement. It can maybe also be argued that the UK’s criterion for cases was unnecessarily strict. By comparison with Germany it was, but that was the criterion, and whatever threshold may have been set, it was going to be breached.
The Hosteltur article argues that the UK government’s primary objective was the domestic economy. The UK had started the summer with a quarantine and had now decided to end the summer with a further quarantine. The staycation was being promoted. Well, any government has a right to promote its own economy, although the impact of the second quarantine in particular has been additionally devastating for that part of the UK economy dedicated to foreign travel and holidays.
There is also a point to be made regarding the first quarantine. The article says that the UK government took this decision based on the recommendation of scientists, when “in reality”, it did not. The chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, made it clear that this was a measure decided by ministers. So, was this a purely political decision? Maybe it was, but one shouldn’t forget that Spain had imposed its own quarantine requirement in mid-May, which wasn’t lifted until after the state of alarm.
The impact of the Spanish quarantine wasn’t necessarily great, given the timeline, but it did have an impact, while the argument for having introduced it was essentially the same as that of the UK - an additional control mechanism for supporting a general reduction in the number of cases and in establishing an environment conducive to the new normal.
In summing up, arguing the toss over whether decisions were political or not gets us only so far. We are fully aware of the harm caused, but is it fair to say that other governments have acted out of political reasons (or indeed that the UK did)? The rise in cases in the Balearics may well reflect a different situation to that which existed in March and April - mainly mild symptoms or asymptomatic, backed up by far wider testing - but rise there has been. Decisions had to be taken.
Palma Airport at sixty per cent
A ETIB, the Balearic agency for tourism strategy, reckons that the number of passengers arriving at Son Sant Joan Airport next month will be in the region of 1.1 million.
This is around sixty per cent of the September arrivals numbers in recent years.
The 1.1 million figure is the number of seats which have been scheduled by airlines.
However, a scheduled figure isn’t necessarily the same as the actual figure.
But assuming that it were to be, then the agency is perhaps correct in believing that the figure is quite positive.
Under the circumstances, 40% down is reasonable.
Whether the 60% is achieved, though, is another matter.
Longer stays for holiday rentals
T HE ETV Federation in Majorca (estancias turisticas vacacionales), which represents some 1,400 holiday rental property owners, is seeking special dispensation for the maximum holiday rental stay which is permitted (one month) to be extended.
In approaching the Council of Majorca to allow this extension (up to three months), the federation would mainly seem to have the German market in mind, and one that is presumably of an age where clients can stay for several weeks.
There has been a fall of almost 30% in bookings because of different governments’ travel decisions; the German government’s having been the most significant. It is said that there are clients who, despite the current quarantine requirement, would like to stay longer in Majorca. For the government, the federation suggests, this would be beneficial - there would be additional tourist tax revenue.