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World News

Spain to demand negative COVID test for air travellers from high-risk countries

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will from Nov. 23 demand a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours for air travellers arriving from countries with a high risk of contracting COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, adding to an array of internal restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers arrive at the airport, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Enrique Calvo

One of Europe’s main COVID-19 hotspots with 1,417,709 cases and 40,105 deaths, Spain had increasingly become an exception in the region for its policy of - so far - not asking visitors to show a negative swab test on arrival.

It will now use European Union criteria to define which countries are classified as high risk, the ministry said, and require test certificates in Spanish or English at airports.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said the rule would apply to non-EU countries with more than 150 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days.

EU countries above that level of incidence, or those with more than 50 cases per 100,000 and with over 4% of all tests giving positive results, will also be affected by the test rule.

There will be no testing at Spain’s land borders, Illa said.

“We will ask the airlines to collaborate and check for travellers’ PCR (swab) tests before boarding,” Illa said, adding that Spain had no plans to impose mandatory quarantine for foreign arrivals.

Madrid regional government leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who has been at loggerheads with the central government over toughening restrictions such as curfews and business closures, said in a tweet the test measure had been long overdue.

“We’ve been fighting for it for six months. Too long. Now the Madrid region and the rest of Spain will be safer.”

Still, health ministry data show only around 4,300 “imported” cases detected in people arriving from abroad since early May - a tiny fraction of the total.

Spain’s overall infection tally is the second highest in Western Europe, after France. Its infection rate over the past 14 days stands at 514 cases per 100,000 people.

The Canaries archipelago, which has the lowest incidence rate in Spain of 82 per 100,000, had earlier announced swab testing for tourists from Nov. 14.

Reporting by Nathan Allen, Emma Pinedo, Belen Carreno, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich

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