Mercedes Garrido, minister for the presidency and public function, appeared before parliament's institutional and general affairs committee on Tuesday, in order to explain the government's handling of the major outbreak of coronavirus among Spanish students.
Garrido appeared at her own request and defended the speed of the government's actions when the first positive case was confirmed, a student who had returned to the Basque Country. She insisted that the decision to quarantine students in Mallorca who were positive and their close contacts was the correct one, adding that the government fully complied with the court decision to let students who were not positive to leave the 'Covid' hotel, the Palma Bellver.
She outlined the chronology of events after notification of the first positive case. Five of the Basque students companions were due to leave on June 23. Four of them tested positive. "They were located by the National Police when they were about to get on the ferry."
These five students were linked to activities at which Covid measures were not respected, e.g. the concert at Palma's bullring and boat and hotel parties in Arenal. Given the spread of the virus among the students and the scale of the outbreak, close contact was considered to apply to all of them from identified groups. The decision was taken to place them in quarantine and to "at least" give them a diagnostic test.
As the "vast majority" of students refused to be tested or to be placed in quarantine, the public health department took the decision to ensure that students who were infected or were close contacts were transferred to the Covid hotel.
A few days later, there were 1,167 positive cases among students who had returned to eleven regions. Another 4,000 people were isolating. At the Covid hotel, there were 50 positive cases and 181 close contacts. A further twelve students had been admitted to hospital.
Following the court decision, 45 students who were negative as well as those who were positive remained in the hotel. Garrido thanked the students who were negative. Meanwhile, she explained, 108 students took the ferry to Valencia, and fourteen returned positive results on arrival. "These young people should have remained confined in the hotel."
All of the students have now left the hotel, she told the committee. She added that the government has lodged an appeal against the court decision with the Balearic High Court. The appeal sets out that general screening and isolation of students met criteria of "proportionality, necessity and suitability"; it was "correct".
Garrido was critical of the "unpleasant and insulting campaigns" directed at the government in having responded to a situation that could have been "lethal" for the Balearics, which at that time had the lowest coronavirus incidence in the country.