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Spain ready to send in troops to tackle #Coronavirus resurgence

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (pictured) said on Tuesday (25 August) that troops would be made available to help regions to overcome a worrying resurgence of the coronavirus, writes Belén Carreño.

He also said regional administrations could make decisions themselves on how to handle the fight against the epidemic rather than have the central government take charge. The government would support requests by regional leaders to declare localized states of emergency, Sanchez said. “The pandemic data curve is worrying and has to be contained. We have to be calm and vigilant,” Sanchez said after the first cabinet meeting following the summer recess. Spain’s cumulative tally of coronavirus cases - already Western Europe’s highest - hit 405,436 after a surge last week, which was the worst week for infections since the epidemic’s peak in late March, Health Ministry figures show.

Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted a three-month state of emergency and lockdown in late June, but daily deaths have been much lower than in March-May. Spain’s total death toll stands at 28,872. “Regions that do not have enough tracers can count on the support of our country’s armed forces,” Sanchez told a news conference, pledging an initial 2,000 troops would be made available.

“The army’s specific training in early detection and epidemiological tracking includes procedures for identifying risk factors and contact tracing,” he added. Seeking to halt the resurgence, regional authorities have brought back some restrictions that were lifted along with the national lockdown. But some regions, including hard-hit Madrid, have complained about a lack of legal measures or concerns about how to use those available.

Following concerns from parents and teachers over a lack of clarity on government and regional plans for the safe reopening of classrooms in about two weeks, Sanchez said: “I guarantee to the fathers and mothers and teaching staff that educational centres will be safe from COVID, and that they will be much safer than many other environments where our young ones have been in the past few weeks.”

Both Madrid and Catalonia announced they would carry out mass testing of students and hire more staff to ensure smaller class sizes when the new term begins.

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#Coronavirus - German health minister warns against 'party holidays'

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Germany’s health minister on Saturday (15 August) criticized “party holidays” and defended a decision to declare nearly all of Spain, including the tourist island of Mallorca, a coronavirus risk region following a spike in cases there, write Emma Thomasson, Jessica Jones and Enrique Calvo.

“I know how much the Germans love Spain ... But unfortunately the infection rates there are rising sharply, too sharply,” Jens Spahn (pictured) told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“Whoever goes to Spain despite the warning should protect themselves and others while on holiday. Party holidays are irresponsible in this pandemic.”

People returning to Germany from designated risk regions face a coronavirus test or two weeks’ compulsory quarantine.

Bar owners in Mallorca, a popular destination for German holidaymakers, feared the news would be the death knell for their already-struggling businesses.

“We live in fear here. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” said Gelinde, from Munich who owns Casa Baviera bar. “We are not afraid of the virus, but we are afraid of what our livelihood will be like.”

Spahn’s comments came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,415 to 222,828, the biggest increase since late April, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

Infections in Spain have also spiked in recent days after it ended a tough lockdown seven weeks ago. The German move deals a new blow to hopes for a swift revival of mass tourism after months of lockdown all but wiped out this year’s high season.

There are currently around 30,000 Germans on holiday with tour operators in Spain’s Balearic islands, the vast majority in Mallorca, plus more independent travellers, the German travel association said.

TUI, the world’s largest tourism company, said it was cancelling all German package holidays to Spain with immediate effect until 24 August, appealing to customers already there to return within seven days.

“If I close I will be unable to reopen again...I have no help. How are we supposed to move on from this?” said Antonia Gost, owner of La Tapita bar in Palma, in response to TUI’s decision to cancel all holidays to the island.

Germany on Friday declared all of Spain apart from the Canary Islands a virus risk region.

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Commission approves €10 billion Spanish fund to provide debt and capital support to companies affected by the #Coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved Spanish plans to set up a fund (Solvency Support Fund) with a budget of €10 billion that will invest through debt and equity instruments in strategic companies active in Spain affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State aid Temporary Framework.

Under the scheme, the support will take the form of debt and recapitalisation instruments. The Commission found that the Spanish measure is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The coronavirus crisis has hit the Spanish economy hard. The Spanish Solvency Support Fund aims to unlock capital support of €10bn to Spanish companies by facilitating their access to finance in these difficult times. The scheme ensures that the State is sufficiently remunerated for the risk assumed by taxpayers, that there are incentives for the State to exit as soon as possible, and that the support comes with strings attached, including a ban on dividends, bonus payments as well as further measures to limit distortions of competition. We continue to work in close cooperation with member states to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules.”

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UK quarantines travellers from Spain in sudden blow to Europe's revival

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Britain abruptly imposed a two-week quarantine on all travellers arriving from Spain after a surge of coronavirus cases, a dramatic and sudden reversal on Saturday (25 July) to the opening of the European continent to tourism after months of lockdown, write David Milliken and Graham Keeley.

The quarantine requirement was due to take effect from midnight (23h GMT on Saturday), making it impossible for travellers to avoid it by rushing home.

The British foreign ministry also announced it was recommending against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, a move likely to prompt tour operators to cancel package holidays and trigger claims against insurers.

Spain’s Canary and Balearic Islands were not covered by the advice to avoid travel to the mainland, but holidaymakers returning to Britain from the islands will still be subject to quarantine on return.

Britain’s government urged employers to be “understanding” towards staff who are unable to return to their place of work for two weeks after they return from holiday.

The sudden British move followed steps this week by other European countries. On Friday Norway said it would re-impose a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain from Saturday, while France advised people not to travel to Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia.

But the total collapse of tourism from Britain would have far more impact. Britain accounted for more than 20% of the foreign visitors to Spain last year, the largest group by nationality. Tourism normally accounts for some 12% of Spain’s economy.

Spain had been on a list of countries that the British government had said were safe for travellers to visit - meaning tourists returning home would not have to go into quarantine.

The announcement of such lists just weeks ago had allowed Europe’s tourism sector to begin its revival after the near total shut-down prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responding to the British measures, Spain said on Saturday it was a safe country with localised, isolated and controlled outbreaks of the coronavirus.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Spain “respects decisions of the United Kingdom” and was in touch with the authorities there.

The British move will affect not just Spain’s tourism sector but airlines and travel companies struggling to get back to business.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party said the news was “deeply concerning” and called for support for British people affected.

Antonio Perez, the mayor of Benidorm, a resort on Spain’s Costa Blanca that is hugely dependent on British tourists, called the move “another tough blow”.

“We have suffered lot this year and then this happened. We thought that the British were going to come back but this makes things harder for now,” he said.

Spain was one of the worst hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, with more than 290,000 cases, and more than 28,000 deaths. It imposed very strict lockdown measures to contain the spread, gradually easing them earlier this summer.

But the last few weeks saw a surge of cases, forcing local lockdowns to be reimposed in some areas.

On Friday (24 July) Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told CNN television that like many countries around the world that have managed to control the disease, Spain “has outbreaks but the governments — both national and regional — are working to isolate cases as soon as they appear”.

The Catalonia region reported 1,493 new coronavirus cases and three deaths on Saturday. The regional government has urged residents of Barcelona to stay at home, and ordered all discos to shut from Saturday for the next 15 days.

Britain itself has been the worst hit country in Europe by the pandemic, with more than 328,000 cases and an official death toll of more than 45,600.

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