When will Spain, Italy and Greece finally ditch their ‘unnecessary’ Covid rules?

At a press event last week, over coffee and breakfast tapas, the Spanish Tourist Office spoke confidently about the year ahead, with visitor numbers – after two fallow years – expected to touch pre-Covid levels. Britain, the country’s biggest source market, would be key to the recovery. Double espressos all round.

There’s just one glaring problem. With millions of Britons about to jet off for an Easter escape, and millions more putting the final touches to their summer holiday, Spain remains one of Europe’s last bastions of Covid travel restrictions.

As things stand, British adults must have received two doses of a vaccine – or, if their second jab was more than 270 days ago – three, if they want to visit. With 14 per cent of the UK’s over-12s declining a second vaccine, and 32.5 per cent turning down a booster, this means a huge chunk of the UK population – possibly in excess of 10 million people – are banned from entering the country. Furthermore, unvaccinated children aged 12-17 can only visit with evidence of a negative test, while Spain’s mask requirements – which many find off-putting – remain among the continent’s strictest. 

Pedro Medina, deputy director of the Spanish Tourist Office, acknowledged his country’s lingering Covid barriers, and said he was “hopeful” that the rules would be “modified soon – certainly in time for summer, or even earlier”. Yet just 24 hours later it was announced that the existing restrictions had been extended for another month – until at least April 30. 

The state of affairs looks even more worrisome for Spain’s tourism sector when one looks at what’s happening elsewhere in Europe. A growing number of countries – including Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Montenegro (see below) – are following the UK’s lead by scrapping all travel restrictions and, in many cases, mask mandates. 

Even France – which has been shutting unjabbed citizens out of public life for months – is easing its rules, with Covid passports scrapped and unvaccinated/unboosted visitors permitted with evidence of a negative test. From April 10, Malta is following suit, leaving Spain as the only Mediterranean country banning Britons entirely on the basis of their vaccination status. 

All of which could put the country’s tourism recovery in jeopardy. Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, suggested that holidaymakers would simply vote with their feet. “Britons are once again used to life without Covid restrictions and will start to avoid any countries where restrictions still apply,” she said. “Nothing less than a removal of all remaining restrictions – for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers alike – will avoid millions flocking to other destinations this summer.”

So when will Spain’s rules change?

The Spanish Ministry of Health has confirmed that the current rules will remain in place until April 30, but there’s no guarantee that this expiry date won’t be extended again. 

However, Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said he would be surprised if they persisted beyond the end of the month. 

“Destinations which dither over removing Covid travel rules are already suffering from a loss of market share, as consumers choose to book with countries that are easier and cheaper to get to,” he added. “The longer they hold out with the unnecessary rules, the more they will feel the pain of bookings going to their competitors.”

Given Spain’s current reticence to return to normal, a total scrapping of restrictions is looking doubtful. More likely would be the acceptance of unvaccinated or unboosted sunseekers as long as they take a PCR test. These are rules that currently apply to unvaccinated children aged 12-17 wishing to visit Spain.

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