Spain hoped its beaches would be the “safest holiday destination” in Europe this summer. Now, at the height of the tourist season, Barcelona and its surrounding areas are in the grip of a fresh coronavirus outbreak.
Almost 3,000 new infections were found in the Catalonia region over the weekend. Local officials urged the roughly 3 million residents of the Barcelona area to stay home on Saturday, but stopped short of making that mandatory. The next day, thousands flocked to the beach and many left for their summer holiday homes.
“It wasn’t clear. People can go outside Barcelona, but the recommendation is also to stay at home. You can go to the beach but you have to wear a mask. But if you are in a terrace, you don’t have to wear it,” said Barcelona resident Carolina Fernandez.
My perception is: if something is not mandatory, we don’t do it," she added.
Epidemiologists say Barcelona's spike is a prime example of what happens when virus monitoring systems are neglected and government mandates aren’t clear.
“Why is it happening? Because the government did not introduce appropriate contact tracing,” epidemiologist Helen Legido-Quiqley told CNN.
By her estimate, Catalonia would need at least 2,000 contact tracers that should have been hired and trained during the previous lockdown. She warned that it would now be much more costly to impose a second lockdown.
“We had three months to prepare and they have not done it,” she said, adding:
It’s a good investment. If you invest in those people and pay their salary, it’s much cheaper than having to lock down the whole city which might happen in the near future.”
Marti Angladan, a spokesperson for Catalonia’s government, admitted that the region needs to double the number of contact tracers.
“We should have doubled this figure. And we are trying to do so. But bear in mind, that we were readying ourselves for an outbreak at the end of October, September,” he told CNN. “[This is] much earlier than expected. We thought, we’d been told by experts, that the high temperatures would slow down, would calm down the virus.”
No such luck for Barcelona. The sunshine is not stopping the virus -- but it is still drawing in tourists.
Stepping off a plane Monday, British visitor Graham Parker was nonplussed by news of the outbreak. “If you’re going to catch it, you catch it here or in the UK,” he told CNN. “Just be careful, keep your distance, use face masks.”