Masked Germans touch down in Mallorca for tourism pilot

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (Reuters) – Hundreds of mask-wearing sunseekers from Germany landed on the Spanish island of Mallorca on Monday, the first tourists allowed into the country since borders were shut in March to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 10,000 German holidaymakers will be welcomed in the Balearic islands as part of a pilot project before Spain gradually opens up to tourism in the next weeks, keen to restart business in a sector that accounts for 12% of its economy.

Visitors passed signs reminding people in German and Spanish to wash their hands and wear masks, then queued at a distance from each other to have their temperatures read and their paperwork checked by border staff also wearing masks.

Hotels are limited to 50% occupancy and will have infra-red cameras to measure the body temperatures of test participants, whose number is capped at 10,900.

One of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Spain will reopen its borders to most European visitors on June 21 and progressively to the rest of the world from July 1st, after changing its mind several times over the past weeks over when and how to do so.

European nations eased border controls on Monday as the number of coronavirus cases declined, but Spain’s continued closure, a patchwork of quarantine rules and remote-working mean pre-crisis travel levels are a way off.

In 2019, Germans made up one third of international tourists to the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off Spain’s east coast that includes the party island of Ibiza. But holiday life will be much more low-key than normal.

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“Holidaymakers can be happy that the beaches in Palma have never been so empty,” said Aage Duenhaupt, a spokesman for travel company TUI.

“But there won’t be parties in the same way this year. And we have rejigged the sport offerings in the hotels. There’ll be more individual sports and no team activities.”

Hoteliers had prepared for the arrivals. On Sunday, Reuters footage showed cleaners clad in protective face coverings wiping surfaces and setting up a buffet at a hotel in Palma de Mallorca, where floor markings showed people the distance to keep from each other.

Reporting by Erol Dogrudogan and Enrique Calvo in Palma de Mallorca and Isla Binnie in Madrid, Writing by Thomas Escritt and Isla Binnie, Editing by Ingrid Melander and Janet Lawrence