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Despite initial concern over Andalucia restrictions, no change at border

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

This article has been updated.

By Brian Reyes and Maria Jesus Corrales

Officials in Gibraltar scrambled on Thursday morning to understand the implications for frontier movement of Andalucia’s new Covid-19 restrictions amid fears they would impact on cross-border leisure travel. But after some initial confusion, for now at least, there will be no change.

On Wednesday night, the Junta de Andalucia announced it would close off Andalucia’s regional perimeter from midnight Thursday [meaning the early hours of Friday] until November 9 to stem the spread of Covid-19.

It was using powers set out in a decree announced by the Spanish Government on Sunday confirming a new state of emergency in Spain.

The decree empowered regional governments to ban travel between regions under some circumstances if there was concern about rising infections, with exemptions on movement for work and essential reasons.

But while the practical impact of the decision was clear for internal Spanish regional boundaries, it was less so in respect of Andalucia’s international borders with Gibraltar and Portugal, where the Madrid government is the decision maker.

The concern on Wednesday night was that the regional measure would have a knock-on impact on people crossing the border for leisure or non-essential reasons, much as happened during the Spanish lockdown earlier this year.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo discussed the measures on Wednesday with Juanma Moreno Bonilla, the President of the Junta de Andalucia, as well as informing him of steps taken inside Gibraltar, including plans for random testing of cross-border workers.

Their initial assessment was that, while there would be no restrictions on cross-frontier workers, Spain residents or essential travel, those crossing the border for leisure reasons could be hit by the Junta’s decision to seal off Andalucia.

By Thursday morning though, just hours before the measures came into force, it was clear border fluidity would not be affected in any way, at least for now.

A spokesman for Spain’s Ministry of the Interior, which is tasked with immigration controls at the country’s borders, told the Chronicle that the restrictions would only be applied to people within Spain.

“The rules established by the autonomous regions will apply once on Spanish territory,” the spokesman said.

Policia Nacional officers at the border with Gibraltar told cross-border commuters they had no instruction to implement any additional controls.

At this stage too, it appears there will be no impact on flights to and from the region.

The measure adopted by Andalucia creates an unusual situation on the region’s international borders. As well as Gibraltar, Andalucia has a border with Portugal too, but neither appear to be subject to the same restrictions as along the perimeter with neighbouring Spanish regions.

During his conversation with the Chief Minister on Wednesday, Mr Moreno Bonilla told Mr Picardo that whatever the impact at the Gibraltar border, there would be no restriction on movement for registered cross-frontier workers, people who were resident in Spain or essential travel.

The implication at the time was that leisure travel could be affected.

Either way, the Chief Minister acknowledged the aim of the Junta’s decision, which sought to reverse a region-wide increase in the number of Covid-19 cases.

“The measures enjoy our understanding and support,” Mr Picardo said on Wednesday night.

“Undoubtedly, this will inconvenience some for 10 days.”

“But these inconveniences are the reality of having to deal with the growth of the Covid-19 infection.”

“I am very pleased that, once again, workers - in both directions - and those needing access to health facilities and other essentials, will be unaffected by the measures.”

On Thursday, Mr Picardo later acknowledged there should be no impact for anyone at the border, including leisure travellers, albeit people must adhere to Spanish Covid-19 regulations once inside Spain.

Alongside sealing off Andalucia, the Junta’s measures also ban movement to and from three provinces with a high incidence of Covid-19 – Seville, Granada and Jaen - and between numerous provinces across Andalucia where the number of virus cases is high.

They also impose a nightly curfew from 11pm to 6am, in line with nationwide measures announced by the Spanish Government on Sunday, and restrict gatherings to no more than six people.

The clear advice is to stay at home and limit movement as much as possible, even where it is allowed.

The measures will initially be in place until November 9 and will be reviewed for two-week periods thereafter.

In announcing them on Wednesday night, Mr Moreno Bonilla said these were “complex and difficult decisions”.

“We are facing days, weeks, perhaps even months, of difficult times,” he said, adding the Junta was seeking to balance the impact on health and the regional economy.

Juan Franco, the mayor of La Linea, welcomed news that Andalucia’s restrictions would not impact on border flow.

“Within the logical concern that we feel about this issue, we should be happy that the closure of Andalucia’s perimeter will not affect movement across the frontier,” he said.

“For now, cross-border workers, businesses etc will be able to continue crossing without problems, albeit in line with the logical restrictions that stem from the state of emergency.”