THE Spanish Government seemed to contradict itself on Wednesday night as its health minister declared ‘this Christmas, we stay at home’, moments after allowing for the complete opposite.
Salvador llla had just announced the restrictions that will be in place over the festive period (December 23 to January 6) – which include a ban on travel between the 17 different regions (bar the Balearics and Canaries).
However there was one rather big exception; anyone can travel to another region to visit a family member or ‘close friend.’
It means, in effect, that between December 23 and January 6, Spain will be completely open to inter-regional travel.
“This festive season is so special and we must allow family members or very close friends, who are not family in the traditional sense, to be together,” said Illa, “We are sure that the public will respect these measures, because we are gambling a lot this December.”
The risky move comes as Spain has shown much progress in lowering its infection rate over the past two weeks.
As of Wednesday, it has a cumulative incidence rate of 251 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest it has been in weeks, dropping by over a third in a month.
Meanwhile it has been reporting less than 10,000 cases per day throughout this week (and less than 8,000 on both Monday and Tuesday).
Fernando Simon, head of the coronavirus task force at the centre for health emergencies, has repeatedly stated that the goal for Spain is to reach an incidence rate of 60 cases per 100,000 people by January of February.
That might become a tall order if, as was seen in summer, mass travel between the autonomous communities leads to another wave of the virus.
The problem will be how to police or control the trips being made over the Christmas period, as there is no documentation that can prove or validate that you are travelling home or to the house of your brother or best friend, for example.
“Spanish citizens must show great responsibility, we do not take these measures for pleasure,” said Illa, “This Christmas we must restrict mobility as much as possible and only the exceptions currently covered by the state of alarm and the visiting of relatives or loved ones are allowed.”
He warned: “We will have the necessary controls in place to ensure this is kept to.”
However the health leader was unable to detail how exactly visiting friends or family would be policed.
How, for example, will they know the difference between a student returning home to Malaga from Madrid and a young person travelling the same route but to meet up with friends for a weekend of partying in a villa?
The journey is only ‘illegal’ if it is not for the purpose of reuniting with family members or a very close friend, something that seems near impossible to police or prove.
However it is true that the people of Spain want to see the end of coronavirus and all the restrictions that come with it.
That means, one would hope, a strict following of health guidelines by a majority of those who do choose to travel to another region or province.
But even if everyone who travels is extra cautious, the risk of a rise in transmission is still significantly increased by the mere fact of a mass confluence of people at train stations, on trains and buses etc.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Government are no doubt in an unenviable position, as no leader wants to be the one to cancel Christmas. But let’s hope this festive reprieve doesn’t cancel too much of next year either.