Coronavirus likes to travel too

Patrons Column: Will the gamble to restart tourism in Spain pay off or will there be a second outbreak that puts paid to any economic recovery until next year?
By Matthew Bennett
Jun 23, 2020, 7:36 pm

"At this rate, the government is going to turn Barajas [airport] into another March 8", the secretary general of the Popular Party, Teodoro García Egea, has said, in reference to the Women's Day marches in Spain the week before the lockdown began. "After everything we've been through, I am worried about the situation in some countries", the First Minister of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, has written in a letter to the Prime Minister, "and above all those with whom we have direct flights". She wants "a series of specific checks" put in place at the airport, including PCR tests for travellers "from the most affected countries". The government, for now, is not buying the opposition plan and there is no longer a state of alarm in force.

Coronavirus also likes to travel. Just look at the work done by Nextstrain. The map of the virus's genetic interactions looks like a log of flights all over the world and all over Europe. It arrived from China, many Spaniards were in the north of Italy in mid-February, many British people were in Spain, and then many Europeans in New York, or many New York residents in Europe. Within Spain, trips from the capital Madrid at the beginning of the crisis caused understandable panic and anger in the regions.

Morocco has cancelled the big summer operation to cross the Straits of Gibraltar, in order to prevent 3 million people moving between continents. Some immigrants on a boat in the Canary Islands have been found to be carrying the disease. There is a big outbreak in Germany. In several states in the US, where it is about as hot as it is in Spain, Covid is on the up again without having finished coming down from the first wave. One of the new outbreaks in Spain, in Murcia, is related to one of the flights that landed at Barajas from Bolivia, without a PCR test. For now, that case has caused 16 other infections.

Covid moves, and slowly mutates, with people, between continents, countries, regions and cities. Without having fully controlled the first wave, we are now opening up our borders again to tourists, with different rules in different countries, because the economy can wait no longer and because they want to save the summer season. No one knows which way the virus is going to mutate, whether it will become less dangerous or more powerful and damaging. In 1918, it was the second wave of Spanish Flu that did most of the damage, after mutating in the wrong direction and moving between the US and Europen on troop and merchant ships at the end of the First World War.

Rushing to open again without things being properly under control means it is not only a second outbreak or a dangerous mutation of the virus that is at stake: tourism and the economy through to next year are as well. If in these first few weeks the first tourists arrive and some are infected and are quarantined and cared for, but some die, because that's what this bug does, how many more tourists will come? Will they be in a hurry to book flights to Spain and encourage their friends to do likewise for a few days on the beach, or will they think twice before paying for the hotel and buying a bikini? Better, perhaps, they might say, to wait until next year, or until they invent a vaccine.

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