As Spanish tourism authorities and businesses digest the UK government’s decision to require returning travellers to quarantine for 14 days, the WHO has defended Spain’s ongoing measures to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking during a virtual press conference, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, said the WHO was confident the situation in Spain (including Alicante and the Costa Blanca) was “nowhere close to what it was there before” and that authorities were taking “every possible measure to investigate and suppress clusters.
“Complacency is not an option and we do not believe the government of Spain is being complacent. Quite the opposite: they’re being responsible and open about their surveillance system.”
Dr Ryan said international travel bans are not a “sustainable strategy” to halt the spread of COVID-19, and noted that decisions about travel restrictions are “difficult” because there is not a “one size fits all” approach that governments around the world can adopt. “It’s going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future.”
He added that travel restrictions should be based on domestic circumstances just as much as a country’s infection rate. “If I’m a small island nation with no COVID, then one case could represent a disaster. Whereas if I’m a country with a high incidence of disease and open borders, then shutting my borders might not make any difference to the overall incidence of disease in my country.
“So the consequences and the risk… that a disease represents is not just the risk of the disease moving, but the impact that that the disease would have should it arrive.
“Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume. We do believe that it is possible to identify and minimise the risk associated with international travel.” To that end, he said, measures including health checks on travellers and rigorous contact tracing could mitigate the spread of COVID-19 across borders.
Strong Resolve by Spanish Public
Earlier in July, while attending a homage in Madrid to people in Spain who had lost their lives due to COVID-19, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recalled that at one point Spain had been among the countries most impacted by COVID-19. At the outbreak’s peak, nearly 10,000 new cases had been reported in a single day in Spain. Since then, however, intensive efforts, led by robust surveillance, testing, contact tracing, treatment and isolation, had managed to suppress transmission.
Dr Tedros attributed this shift to the leadership shown by Spain and the strong resolve shown by the Spanish public to adhere to strict restrictions, including lockdowns, physical distancing and other critical measures to contain transmission. These efforts, combined, had successfully changed the course of the country’s outbreak, he reported.
“Spain has shown that with political leadership and action, backed by community support, COVID-19 can be controlled, no matter at what stage virus transmission is at in a country. From being greatly challenged, Spain has reversed the trajectory of the outbreak. While we have witnessed the suppression of the virus across Spain, I support the commitment by Spanish authorities to remain vigilant in the face of the persistent threat that COVID-19 poses.”
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