The calm before the storm
Teachers have been back at school preparing classrooms and playgrounds for the arrival of children from Monday. The Valencian government’s education department has issued health safety protocols covering the numbers of students, distances to be maintained, as well as who needs to wear a face mask and when.
But the guidance seems to change regularly – and the latest instructions are that all students from first primary upwards must wear face masks at all times, although this could change again at any moment.
To keep students separated as much as possible, playgrounds have been divided up, class sizes dramatically reduced, and many desks fitted with Perspex screens. One school in Valencia, Colegio Dominicos San Vicente Ferrer, has even built an extra classroom on their roof terrace to gain extra space.
A contentious issue has been regarding testing teachers for Coronavirus, which led to a political row early in the week. The PPCV (the People’s Party for the Valencia region) president Isabel Bonig argued that teachers should all be tested for Covid-19 and has threatened legal action against the health and education departments if they are not.
However, spokesman for the PSPV (the PSOE party for the region) Manolo Mata disagreed, saying that the PP’s proposal went ‘against all scientific arguments’. He said that mass testing of teachers wouldn’t prevent anything and that even negative tests have to be repeated a few days later.
As the new term begins, parents are also being asked to sign a Covid declaration that they will comply with health rules, check their child’s health daily and that they won’t send their children to school if they show any Covid-compatible symptoms – and that they’ll seek medical advice before doing so.
Universities also approved the compulsory use of face masks this week, but there were doubts about how practical sessions in laboratories and those for medical students could be carried out while maintaining social distancing.
Ahead of schools re-opening on Monday, Valencian Health Minister Ana Barceló sent a message of tranquillity to families, saying that ‘we must stay calm, without letting our guard down’.
She pointed out that the fatality rate had dropped from 8.3% during the first wave to the current 0.3%. She said the intensive care units had reached 56.6% of occupation during the peak in March and are today at 7.6%. She also reported that the health system had stockpiled the necessary sanitary material supplies for the coming months, as well as acquiring a further 403 ventilators.
Local lockdown in Benigànim and other measures
At the start of the week the health department announced that the town of Benigànim would be locked down due to a sudden spike in Coronavirus cases. By Thursday there were reports of new outbreaks in the neighbouring towns and villages.
Meanwhile, the number of new cases being recorded in the city of Valencia itself keeps on growing. On Saturday the region’s president, Ximo Puig, said that the stricter measures that had been brought in covering the metropolitan area on 17 August, would be extended for another 21 days from Tuesday.
The measures mainly affect closing times and limits on capacity, especially in relation to gatherings of family and friends where no more than 10 people are allowed. In addition bingo halls, casinos, betting shops will now have to close at 1am.
Puig also confirmed that he would be signing up for the Radar Covid app next week, that it would come into force gradually, and that the 150 contact tracers he had requested from Spain’s defence ministry would start working in the next few days.
Coronavirus day by day
Click here for all reports on: Coronavirus in Spain
Monday began with 789 positive cases, 22 new outbreaks and 955 all-clears since the previous Friday. Of the new outbreaks, five were work related, the rest related to socialising and nine were located in the city of Valencia.
With the town of Benigànim locked down for at least 14 days, all face-to face classes were cancelled, centres for the elderly, gyms, bars, restaurants, as well as parks and gardens were also closed. The level of cases per 100,000 people had risen from 34.24 to 994.46 in the previous seven days and control of contact tracing had been lost. Barceló said that it had been a ‘difficult but necessary decision’.
Tuesday saw a further 902 new cases of Coronavirus registered, seven deaths and 593 all-clears. There were 23 new outbreaks.
Barceló said: ‘Slowing this virus requires individual commitment from each and every citizen to do their part to fight the pandemic. Otherwise we’ll never manage to control transmission of the virus.’
Castellón registered the first deaths in the province for two and a half months, with one on Monday and another on Tuesday.
On Wednesday there were 463 new cases of the virus, 593 all-clears and one death. There were 24 new outbreaks, with seven located in Valencia city and all the outbreaks were related to socialising, except for five, which were work-related.
There were 541 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday with 562 all-clears and three deaths. There were 28 new outbreaks.
Friday saw a further 714 new cases registered and 786 all-clears. There were a further eight deaths and a staggering 38 new outbreaks. All were related to socialising, except for nine, and 16 were in the city of Valencia.
New secretary of state for tourism visits Benidorm
With Jet2 cancelling the remainder of their summer programme up to 31 October, the new Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, made Benidorm the destination for his first visit since taking on the job in mid-August.
He said that the city was a point of reference in Spain and the Valencian region for the way it had handled the Covid-19 situation and worked towards making it a safe destination.
He also said that the Spanish government was working with EU partner countries and the UK to find alternatives to quarantines and travel restrictions which had been put in place. He said, ‘You’ll see. Benidorm will be one of the destinations to benefit from this dialogue.’
Meanwhile, president of the Alicante provincial council, Carlos Mazón, has demanded urgent help for the tourism sector from the central government in Madrid.
Mazón has accused the government of being slow at putting a plan into action to help recuperate tourism in the province of Alicante, which relies heavily on tourism income. He proposed three forms of action: financial, to extend the ERTEs (the furloughed workers), visibility action and direct help. Mazón also was at a meeting with representatives from tourism organisations and local mayors in Benidorm on Wednesday.
A campaign to attract more Norwegians to the area has also already been launched, emphasising the region as an active destination for sport.
Click here for all our reports from the Valencia Region
Also read (30/8/20): A ‘zero risk option does not exist’ – Valencia prepares for a return to school
Also read (24/8/20): Happy ending for orphaned chimpanzee in Valencia
Also read (23/8/20): Backlash in Valencia against nightlife curfews – plus support for tourism
Also read (23/8/20): Valencia FC owner and management team face legal action
Also read: Valencia in English (15 Aug)
Also read: Valencia in English (9 Aug)
Also read: Valencia in English (2 Aug)
Also read: Valencia in English (26 July)
Also read: Valencia in English (19 July)
Also read: Valencia in English (12 July)
Also read: Valencia in English (5 July)
Also read: Valencia in English (28 June)
Also read: Valencia in English (21 June)
Also read: Valencia in English (14 June)
Also read: Valencia in English (7 June)
Also read: Valencia in English (31 May)
Also read: Valencia in English (24 May)
Also read: Valencia in English (17 May)
Also read: Welcome to ‘Valencia in English’