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Spain not discussing #UKTravelCorridor but will welcome thousands of German tourists

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Spain is not discussing a travel corridor with Britain, a Spanish foreign ministry source told Reuters on Tuesday (9 June), but it will allow nearly 11,000 German tourists to visit the Balearic Islands two weeks before officially reopening its borders.

With summer fast approaching, a key question is whether and how tourists will be able to travel across Europe — particularly those from the United Kingdom, which on Monday (8 June) imposed a 14-day quarantine on foreign visitors. A UK tourism group said corridors allowing unrestricted movement with a number of countries would open from June 29, but the British embassy in Madrid said the government had not yet discussed such a proposal with other countries.

Portugal has said it is discussing an arrangement to exempt returning British holidaymakers from quarantine but Spain has no plans to do the same, the foreign ministry source said.

Severely affected by the pandemic, Spain now seems to have it under control. But it has taken a stricter approach than other countries and plans to start opening its borders to foreign visitors only on 1 July. “Spain has called for a common (European Union-wide) approach to opening the borders.

"If this is not done, it will establish its own criteria,” the foreign ministry source said. It will nevertheless let up to 10,900 Germans fly to the Balearic archipelago between June 15 and June 29 as part of a pilot programme before fully restarting the industry, regional leader Francina Armengol told a press conference. Visitors will have to provide health information and contact details and will face temperature checks upon arrival, but will not undergo quarantine or testing unless they show symptoms.

“We have chosen Germany because it is our main source of tourists and because their epidemiological levels are similar to ours,” Armengol said. Germany has had fewer than 9,000 deaths from coronavirus while Britain’s death toll of 40,597 is the highest in Europe.

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Commission approves €2.55 billion Spanish guarantee scheme to compensate certain self-employed and companies for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a €2.55 billion Spanish scheme to compensate certain self-employed and companies, which are following judicial composition agreements, for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak. The compensation will take the form of public guarantees for repayable new loans granted by supervised financial institutions, and new notes issued on the Alternative Fixed-Income Market. Under the scheme, around 15,000 self-employed and companies with endorsed composition agreements with creditors following judicial insolvency proceedings will be compensated for damages incurred between 14 March and 20 June 2020.

This period coincides with the period when the Spanish government implemented restrictive measures to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Spanish scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak restrictions.

It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register, under the case number SA.59045.

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Brussels considers whether to lift Puigdemont's parliamentary immunity

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The European Parliament returned to consider on Monday (16 November) whether to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont (pictured). Puigdemont's hearing — along with two other Catalan separatists — was suspended for seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Puigdemont fled in 2017 after Spain issued a warrant to arrest him for his part in what Madrid deemed an illegal Catalan independence referendum, write Ana Lazaro and Jack Parrock.

He ended up in Belgium and has been an MEP since being elected in 2019. The EP's legal affairs committee is considering lifting his immunity — which prevents Madrid from asking for his extradition — at the request of Spain. Madrid has asked for the same for two other pro-independence MEPs, Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí.

Following Monday's meeting, the committee will sit again on December 7, where the three MEPs will be able to speak.

If their immunity is lifted, which could take four months, Spain would be able to ask for extradition again. Belgian and the Scottish judges, the countries of residence of the three MEPs, would then decide. Spain's high court wants the Catalan politicians to be tried for sedition, embezzlement and disobedience for their participation on the 2017 referendum.

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Spain hopes to receive first Pfizer vaccines in early 2021 - minister

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Spain stands to receive its first vaccines against COVID-19 developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech in early 2021, the health minister said on Tuesday (10 November), under a deal being negotiated by the European Union, write Inti Landauro, Belen Carreno and Nathan Allen.

The EU hopes to sign a contract soon for millions of doses of the vaccine, the European Commission announced on Monday, hours after the two companies said it had proved more than 90% effective, in what could be a major victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain would initially get 20 million vaccine doses, enough to immunize 10 million people, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on state broadcaster TVE, adding that the vaccination would be free.

Enough people would be vaccinated by April-May, so that the fight against the pandemic in Spain would move to another stage, Illa added.

A total of 39,756 people have died of the virus in Spain, many regions of which are back under lockdown restrictions to stem the spread of the disease. The death toll on Tuesday rose by 411 - the largest daily tally in the country’s second wave.

Spain recorded 17,395 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, health ministry data showed, retreating from highs of more than 20,000 recorded last week and bringing the total to just below 1.4 million - one of the highest in western Europe.

Pfizer has offered to help with the logistics to distribute the vaccine, which has to be kept deep frozen to be effective, Science Minister Pedro Duque told a news briefing.

Spain’s central and regional governments will make a decision on who will have priority based on “medical criteria”, Duque said.

Illa said the Spanish government would act to convince a substantial portion of the population which public opinion polls suggest are wary of any vaccine against COVID-19.

“We will tell the truth, which is that vaccines save lives,” Illa said.

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