MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain revised down its coronavirus death toll on Monday and urged foreign holidaymakers to return from July as it eases one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, though tourism businesses were sceptical about salvaging the summer season.
The world’s second-most visited nation closed its doors and beaches in March to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, later imposing a two-week quarantine on overseas visitors. But that requirement will be lifted from July 1, a government statement said.
“The worst is behind us,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya tweeted with emojis of a bikini, sunglasses and a suitcase.
“In July we will gradually open Spain to international tourists, lift the quarantine, ensure the highest standards of health safety. We look forward 2 welcoming you!”
Introduced on May 15 with little warning, the quarantine caused confusion in the tourism industry and tension with neighbouring France. By lifting it, the government hopes to make up for the earlier communication breakdown and be in a stronger position to attract foreign tourists this summer.
Spain normally draws 80 million people a year, with tourism accounting for over 12% of gross domestic product and an even bigger share of jobs, so the summer season is crucial to possibilities of mitigating a looming recession.
The health ministry also revised the death toll lower by nearly 2,000 to 26,834 after checking data provided by regions, and said just 50 people had died of the virus over the past week, a marked fall from previous weeks. The total number of cases has also been revised down to 235,400.
Bars and restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona were allowed to open outside spaces at half capacity from Monday, but many stayed closed as owners weighed the value of catering to just a few.
Some of those who did open were pessimistic.
“It’s complicated, we are not going to be able to save the tourist season, unless (enough) foreigners come,” said Alfonso Gomez, a restaurant owner in Barcelona.
Passersby enjoying new-found freedoms were more upbeat.
“This is great, I was really looking forward to it. And so was my dog!” said interior designer Anna Pardo, walking her pet in the sunshine as Madrilenos were allowed back into the main Retiro park.
Others jogged and chatted in the Retiro’s shaded alleys or stopped to enjoy its lake, devoid of the usual rowing boats.
While most pupils in Spain still need to study online, some schools reopened in the northern Basque region. Students’ temperature was taken as they entered wearing masks.
The prospect of foreign tourism from July lifted shares of tourism-related stocks, including hotel operator Melia Hotels which closed more than 26% higher.
The tourism and leisure sector tops areas getting most support from state-backed credit lines meant to help businesses. It has received 6.4 billion euros of the 38 billion euros ($41 billion) granted over recent weeks, according to data from state credit agency ICO.
Jose Carlos Ramon, head of Madrid’s restaurants association AMER, said only one in four bars and restaurants in the capital has a terrace and reopening is costly. In Spain as a whole, only about 15% have reopened, he said.
The government is due to discuss on Tuesday how to move on with the gradual phasing out of the lockdown.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Ingrid Melander, Emma Pinedo, Jesus Aguado, Belen Carreno in Madrid, Vincent West in San Sebastian, Jordi Rubio and Luis Castilleja in Barcelona; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Andrei Khalip and Timothy Heritage)