How the months have flown by and how the months have raised and then dashed hopes of flight. Five months ago, the European Commission was coming to the rescue of travel. Or so it had been heralded. With no small amount of anticipation, we waited for the announcement, and when it came, the reaction was - is that it?
The European Commission issued its guidelines, its recommendations. They were guidelines and recommendations that could have come from the Spanish government. In fact, they may well have done, so similar were they to what Madrid was recommending. But around the same time, Madrid, as in the health ministry, flew off in the opposite direction. Basically in charge of policy (the state of alarm was still very much in place), the ministry announced the quarantine. Yes, remember that? You may have forgotten that Spain had a quarantine requirement for foreign travellers, given the hullabaloo associated with later quarantines imposed by certain other governments.
Not, it has to be said, that the Spanish quarantine meant a great deal, as there were hardly any foreign flights coming into Spain, while it was also going to be lifted when the state of alarm was raised: right in time for summer. Nevertheless, the quarantine did appear somewhat contradictory, such had been the Spanish determination for Brussels to intervene. The trouble was, though, that when the European Commission delivered its commandments, they turned out to be nothing of the sort. They were just recommendations, and freedom of movement and open borders were to remain secondary to national governments’ public health policies.
And so, five months on, we come to the latest recommendations. Fanfare there was once more, but the trumpets of Brussels again had mutes. The criteria for travel had been sort of unified, but there were certain drawbacks, such as the criteria being voluntary and several countries having abstained. But maybe this was all that could have been hoped for. Public health continues to dominate; as much as it had back in May when the first recommendations were issued and the Covid curve did at least look as if it was on its downward trajectory.
Europe’s foreign ministers agreed to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control continuing to publish a weekly map of the health situation in each country and region. The ECDC’s traffic lights now had another colour: grey for, quite literally (or geographically), grey areas, for where there are insufficient data. One region, one island, which isn’t a grey area is Mallorca. That’s because Mallorca is red. Which doesn’t, according to the criteria, mean there can be no travel but does mean that people travelling from Majorca may be subject to quarantine or screening on arrival. May be or will be?
Lowering the ECDC traffic light to orange won’t fundamentally change the situation, while green is some way off - 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The EU’s reference point is 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a fourteen-day period. Above fifty, and the virus is considered to be spreading. At the time of writing (Wednesday), this was 117.84 for the whole of the Balearics, even if the incidence is coming down.
So, at least there are now criteria, or more like criterion. As Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign affairs minister said (he abstained), the criteria need to be deeper - the mortality rate, the situation in hospitals, the number of intensive care beds, and the number of tests. Ah yes, the tests, and where there might be tests.
Airport testing: Where is it?
The Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela, told parliament earlier this week that there is no airport in the world where testing is being performed. Well, that’s not quite right. The minister might note, for example, that travellers taking flights from Vienna Airport can have a test. But perhaps he was referring to a mandatory regime of testing, and he is certainly interested in there being tests both at point of origin and destination. These tests are part of the protocol agreed with the Spanish government and the government in the Canaries, which has been insistent on tests for longer than the Balearic government has been.
The protocol agreed, but where’s the joined-up government? How is this protocol possible when the tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, indicated last week that the government, and therefore the Aena airports authority, is opposed to using airports as centres for carrying out tests.
This came up in connection with the demands being made by the Canaries government, yet Aena is against testing passengers flying from the islands’ airports (and presumably from any Spanish airports). The Canaries government has considered putting up tents outside airport grounds and using these for tests, but the cost would apparently be prohibitive. The Plan B (or Plan C) would be to test travellers in their hotels, but the problem with this lies with tourists who don’t stay in hotels.
The Senate’s industry and tourism committee has approved a motion telling the Spanish government that it should ensure that there is testing at airports in the Canaries. And by association, because of the agreed protocol, this would also mean airports in the Balearics. Aena says that it doesn’t have competence (powers) in respect of health matters. This is why it is opposed, but the airports authority adds that it will collaborate with all measures that the health authorities agree in order to contain the virus.
There is, therefore, a failure of joined-up government. How can there be an agreement for a protocol that includes testing but is inoperable because one area of government, which is essential for the protocol, says that it doesn’t have competence in the matter? A negotiating ploy for gaining agreement for safe air corridors with the UK and elsewhere is the testing. It’s not much of a tactic if the wherewithal doesn’t exist.