surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

A punishing season

There were more negative developments for the Spanish tourism and catering industries this week, with the announcement of some of the most bizarre "safety measures" yet seen - namely, the smoking ban in public that has been adopted by regions such as Galicia and (sadly) Andalucía, and the reduction of bars' and restaurants' hours at the end of the night.

The government claims that both will help to curb the recent rise in infections seen in some parts of the country; but along with the UK's cancellation of its "air corridor" with Spain at the end of July, they will also - or perhaps that should be "only" - dent the recovery efforts of the Spanish tourism and hospitality industries.

The new measures are highly questionable, whichever way you look at them.

To take just three queries posed by their introduction: if stopping people smoking in public is an effective way of limiting the spread of Covid, why's it only being introduced now, months after lockdown ended? Why is smoking banned on terraces where social distancing (a phrase I now hate) is also observed, as it is at my favourite local? And what difference, if any, will reducing bars' opening hours by two or three hours a day actually make to the number of new cases? Answers on postcards, please.

One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the biggest problem for Spanish tourism and hospitality is no longer the virus itself, it's the measures taken to control an exhausted and baffled public (enough of the word "protect", please), which are being presented with scant or zero scientific evidence, and which unnecessarily add to the bloated manual of how to behave when not at home.

A decent summer season presented the first opportunity for recovery for a tourism industry that has been razed to the ground by Covid and the measures taken to limit its spread.

But thanks to the new rules, which will put smokers off sitting on outside terraces and deprive bars and restaurants of several hours' worth of takings every day, it's an even more unlikely prospect.

It's true that there has been a sharp increase in new cases of Covid in Spain over the last few weeks - but it's important to note that the vast majority of these are being recorded in Madrid, Catalonia, Navarre and Aragon.

Enormous disparity between regions is also one of the reasons the UK's travel regulations for Spain are so illogical, implying as they do that the risk of a weekend in Barcelona is equal to that of renting a villa in Extremadura, one of the least-affected areas.

It remains the case that, statistically speaking, you're far safer in many parts of Spain than you are in the UK.

And it's more important now than ever that Spanish tourism and hospitality gets back to full strength.