‘I really needed a break’: Pandemic-weary Germans find ‘freedom’ on Mallorca

Tens of thousands of German residents are expected to travel to the Spanish island of Mallorca during the Easter holidays - even though the German government is urging people to avoid travel. Here's what holidaymakers had to say.

'I really needed a break': Pandemic-weary Germans find 'freedom' on Mallorca
People on a beach in Mallorca on March 29th. Photo: DPA

Tanya Buscher said she felt “a little bit” guilty when she booked a plane ticket to Mallorca – her first holiday since the pandemic struck – but her remorse did not last long once faced with the Spanish island’s turquoise waters.

“We don’t know what the future will hold, they could close the borders,” the 32-year-old, her shoulders already reddened by the sun, told AFP.

She fled Dortmund for the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the face of warnings from German Chancellor Angela Merkel against Easter trips abroad, aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

READ ALSO: ‘Germans are coming back’: Spaniards sceptical over return of tourists

Bookings for the Balearics surged from mid-March, after the low infection rate in the archipelago prompted Berlin to drop a quarantine requirement for people returning from the region — long a favourite of German holidaymakers.

Holiday group TUI immediately doubled its flights from Germany to Mallorca, while German flag carrier Lufthansa tripled its weekly connections from Frankfurt to the islands.

The news annoyed some Spaniards, themselves unable to enjoy the Balearics during Easter due to a nationwide ban on inter regional travel to try to curb a rise in infections.

Foreigners like Buscher can fly in as long as they present a negative PCR test.

Germans also must present a negative test on their return home.

Freedom and happiness

“I really needed a break, it’s hard to work at home without seeing anyone,” said 53-year-old divorcée Birgit Leeck after taking a PCR test so she can fly home to Hamburg after a week in Mallorca.

Walking on the golden sands of the island — sometimes jokingly called Germany’s “17th state” – she said she found “freedom, happiness, sun”.

It was great!” she added, shrugging her shoulders when asked about criticism that the island was being flooded with tourists in the middle of a pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new coronavirus testing rules for air travellers: What you need to know

“Where are they? Do you see them?,” she asked, pointing to a huge nearby beach dotted with holidaymakers, rather than the usual Easter crowds.

Increased reservations from Germany are far from saturating Mallorca’s enormous hotel room capacity — only 13 percent of its hotels are currently even open, according to local hotel association FEHM.

And traffic at Palma’s airport is down by 60-80 percent from what it was at this time last year, according to Spanish airport operator Aena.

At the beachfront Acapulco Playa hotel only 10 percent of rooms are occupied, compared to 90 percent during a normal Easter break, said Fernando Gonzalez of hotel chain Gruphotel.

The company has only opened five of its 36 establishments this year in the archipelago, which also includes Menorca and Ibiza.

 Economic relief

Squeezed as the tourism-dependent island economy shrank 24 percent last year, hotels have taken steps to reassure guests that they are safe, with temperature controls at entrances to buffets and hand gel dispensers everwhere.

“There is no other solution than to try to open up, in a safe and controlled manner obviously,” said Gonzalez.

The island is quieter than usual as bars and restaurants must close at 5pm under virus restrictions.

For Cristian Lafourcade, a 49-year-old waiter at the Zur Krone bar, the arrival of German tourists – who make up 95 percent of his customers – is a “total relief”.

Police at Frankfurt airport checking that travellers returning from Mallorca have negative test certificates. Photo: DPA

The restaurant’s terrace was one of the few open along a strip of beach full of closed shops.

Many German holidaymakers said they felt safer in the Balearics than they did in Germany, with its crowded streets and supermarkets.

“If we follow the rules, everything is fine,” said Charline Osmi, 27, who came from Hanover with her boyfriend who was “depressed” by Germany’s lockdown measures.

“We have done the test so as to not bring the virus, and here we are careful to keep our distance,” he added.

The couple did not tell their colleagues that they were going to Mallorca for fear of being criticised but were enjoying the sun.

“You have to learn to live with the virus,” said Osmi.

By Emmanuelle MICHEL

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now