David Paul Appell
by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte
Across the world, throughout the spring of 2020 we've all been living through a global public-health emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes. But now, after the extraordinary measures due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 which closed borders and shut down tourism in most countries of the world, Spain is among those which have flattened the pandemic curve enough to return to "normal" as of 1 July, welcoming back foreign visitors - from most other countries within Europe plus 15 more from beyond the continent - with open arms.
But of course this is a "new normal," including a number of measures and rules put in place to maximise protections for holidaymakers and tourism-industry workers alike, as well as suppress any potential second wave of the virus (these provisions were tested by a trial project in June which allowed 11,000 Germans to visit the Balearic Islands). Some of these rules apply across Spain, whilst others differ depending on region, and not observing them can carry fines, such as 100 euros for not wearing a face mask in areas where they're required. So here's some of what you can expect this summer when you visit the cities, towns, beaches, and natural areas of this remarkable country:
Face Masks & Physical Distancing
Throughout Spain, the law is that everyone over the age of six must wear a face covering (not necessarily an N95 mask), especially on public transport and in most enclosed public spaces. There are exceptions, such as when eating and drinking in restaurants and bars. You can also walk around outside without a mask if you are able to keep a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres (five feet) from other people - including at the beach - and if you are exercising by yourself (not in a group). If you have a respiratory problem or other relevant disability you may be exempt, but you'll need to carry proof in case you are stopped by police. You won’t be admitted to any shops or malls without a mask, and you must also wear one in restaurants and bars (though not on outdoor café or restaurant terraces, nor whilst eating or drinking inside).
You don’t have to bring a stack of masks with you, as they are readily available at pharmacies and many supermarkets at an average cost of 1€. Gloves are not obligatory, but I still wear them a lot, simply to avoid irritating the skin of my hands by the constant use of hand sanitisers.
Airports & Flying
What you have to do at check in depends entirely on your departure airport. But upon arrival in Spain, you'll be required to fill in a questionnaire stating if you have been infected with the coronavirus or have been in contact with those who are, along with providing details of your addresses and contact numbers during your stay. Next you will pass through thermal-imaging cameras to have your temperature taken. If there is suspicion of an infection, you'll be tested by a medical professional. If you have checked luggage, it will be sprayed with disinfectant when you collect it from the carousel.
Additionally, informational posters, hand-sanitiser dispensers, and floor markers to indicate safe distances have been placed at various points around airports; many airline check-in counters have screens installed; queues have been staggered to create more distance between passengers; some airlines including Iberia have temporarily closed their VIP lounges; and announcements regarding face masks and physical distancing play on loudspeakers every few minutes. Some airlines, including Iberia, now allow passengers to check hand luggage at no cost, to reduce inflight movement and disruption as well as the amount of potentially contaminated items in the cabin.
Inflight, meanwhile, in addition to all passengers and crew wearing masks, hygiene measures have been further ramped up, including heightened sterilisation of items such as blankets and pillows, as well as use of disinfection products specifically targeted toward the coronavirus.
Public Ground Transport
Once you arrive, free movement throughout cities and provinces as well as between provinces is once again permitted; trains and busses will be running on schedule, but in some cases at reduced capacity and leaving empty seats to maintain physical distancing. Again, wearing of masks is a must. Also, quite a few ticket counters at train and bus stations remain closed, so when at all possible buy tickets online or via a travel agency.
This is one of the instances in which the rules can differ somewhat, as they are set by local authorities. To be up to date, consult each locality's tourism or municipal website, or you can simply walk to the beach and consult the relevant signs, posted in Spanish and English. Thousands of people have been hired to patrol beaches along various stretches of the coast to enforce as well as remind holidaymakers of the new physical distancing rules. Pathways at many are now painted with arrows to indicate access to and exits from the sand, to keep people more separated.
Generally speaking, times of use are also restricted; in some places, the beaches may close at siesta time, around 2 to 4 pm, while others stay open from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm. Apart from that, in some towns beaches will be operating more or less as normal, while others (such as my own town, Torrevieja in Alicante) allow unlimited strolling and swimming but the sands will be divided into sections marked by rope, with a limited number of people allowed in each (and in the popular Alicante resort Benidorm, for instance, you'll also need to reserve your section in advance). Some beaches will continue to have hamacas (sun beds) for hire, whereas on others you'll need to bring your own, or spread out on towels. Water sports are allowed without limitation, as is fishing.
Inside Spaces: Hotels, Restaurants, Shops, Theatres, Museums, Nightspots, and More
Except for concert and sporting-event venues, most establishments are once again fully open for business - just mostly not at full capacity. At the door of many you'll see a hand-sanitiser dispenser as well as a sign stating their aforo (capacity); depending on the type of establishment, an employee may be standing at the door to take temperature checks. Hotel lifts will be limited to one or two individuals per trip, and check-in desks will also have hand-sanitiser dispensers, as well as clear barriers between employees and guests.
In the case of dining spots, diners will be spaced farther apart, skipping tables, and many establishments in place of printed menus are now going touchless, providing them via QR codes taped to the tables, which you'll then access via your smartphone. Those restaurants and hotels offering buffets may still offer them, but either you'll need to wear a mask and plastic gloves whilst serving yourself, or there will be employees on hand to serve you the food items you indicate. Finally, while you can still go to nightclubs, dancing is for the moment still not allowed.
The bottom line is that having lived through this country's coronavirus lockdown - one of the world's strictest - I can assure you that this new normal isn’t bad at all. Stick to the rules, be guided by common sense, and you'll have fully as wonderful a holiday in Spain as ever. So come get into travel mode this summer with Iberia!
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is an attorney turned travel writer/photographer, currently based in Alicante, Spain, whose work has appeared at GoNomad, GoWorldTravel, EuropeupClose, and BBC Travel. Her blog GlamourGrannyTravels.com is dedicated to female baby boomers who love to travel in style and comfort.