Spanish Tourist Office pins hopes on island testing protocols

The Spanish Tourist Office has issued details of Covid-testing protocols it hopes will allow UK holidaymakers to return to the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Spain’s government announced agreement on protocols for ‘travel corridors’ with officials of the Canary and Balearic Islands on October 13.

These would see travellers arriving from an area with an accumulated Covid-infection rate of more than 50 per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous 14 days required to present a negative Covid test carried out up to 48 hours before travel or to take a test on arrival.

Visitors would also be required to take a test 48 hours before departing the islands.

Tests in the destinations would be at no cost to travellers. But tests in the UK before departure would have to be done privately because there is no NHS Covid-test certification. The UK government has also urged travellers not to seek NHS tests unless they have Covid symptoms.

Visitors required to self-isolate on the islands following a test on arrival or before departure would be assigned to a hotel set aside for the purpose.

The Balearic and Canary Islands authorities say they would cover the costs and have pledged also to cover the costs of any medical care and hospitalisation.

Implementing the system would require the agreement of other governments, including the UK and Germany.

The UK is the main source market to the Canary Islands and the second-most important to the Balearic Islands behind Germany.

UK travellers returning from the islands are currently required to quarantine for 14 days and Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel to the islands invalidates most travel insurance cover.

The Tourist Office suggested the system would “guarantee travellers returning from these regions will not face quarantines on their return” and argued: “No traveller with an active infection will arrive to the Balearic Islands or Canary Islands and no infected traveller will depart from the islands.”

Abta has been leading industry efforts to re-open travel to the islands since their removal from the government’s corridors list on July 26.

However, this appears unlikely to be acceptable to the UK government.

Modelling by scientists on behalf of Public Health England, and cited repeatedly by the UK government, suggests a test on arrival might pick up only 7% of asymptomatic recent infections, when a second test after five days and with two additional days self-isolation could pick up 85%.

A study by Lancaster University researchers suggests the “ideal” time to start testing for Covid-19 is “five days following exposure”, meaning a test within 48 hours could still miss infections.

Obtaining a test 48 hours before a flight to the islands may also prove difficult.

Speaking at Abta’s Travel Convention, private health consultant Dr Charlie Easmon said: “Testing 48 or 72 hours before a flight can be a challenge, and if the flight is on a Monday it can be almost impossible because testing labs are not open on Sunday.”

Easmon noted: “NHS tests don’t come with any form of certification, so people are forced into private testing.”

If the UK government does agree to reopen travel to the islands, the tourist office said visitors could make use of a ‘Covid Radar’ contact-tracing app already available in English.

It said: “The regional governments of the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, together with the Spanish Government, are convinced that the tourism corridor proposal offers the necessary safety conditions for all stakeholders to be able to safely restore tourism.”

Spanish industry, trade and tourism minister Reyes Maroto said at the launch of the protocols: “They are a useful measure to reach agreements with our European partners. We hope to be able to extend these protocols within Spain’s mainland.”


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