Mass coronavirus outbreak: hundreds test positive after student vacations in Mallorca

Cases have been detected in several regions of Spain, prompting the government to advise youngsters to suspend end-of-school trips to the Balearic Islands

People in San Sebastián line up to be tested for the coronavirus after around 50 positive cases were detected among students returning from Mallorca.
People in San Sebastián line up to be tested for the coronavirus after around 50 positive cases were detected among students returning from Mallorca.Javier Etxezarreta (EFE)
Jessica Mouzo

A mass coronavirus outbreak linked to end-of-year school trips on the Spanish island of Mallorca has led to over 500 positive cases in several regions of Spain. There are 320 infected youths and 2,000 have been quarantined in the Madrid region alone, authorities there said on Friday morning. The trips took place between June 18 and 20.

Besides Madrid, there are at least 50 cases in Galicia, 49 in the Basque Country, 67 in the Valencia region, 20 in Murcia, 12 in Castilla-La Mancha and 10 in Aragón. In Andalusia, 476 students who traveled to Mallorca have been isolated and are undergoing PCR tests.

The youths were in Mallorca to celebrate after taking their university admission exams (EVAU). They were staying at eight different hotels on the island, and took part in “a rather intense program of activities, including festivals,” according to Madrid authorities. The program included a reggaeton concert at the Palma bullring and several boat parties.

In response to the outbreak, the Spanish government’s alert team has decided to recommend against any more end-of-year school trips to Mallorca due to the “high risk of transmission” of such environments, said a spokesperson from the Health Ministry. The move comes as the Balearics are about to be placed on the United Kingdom’s green travel list, which eliminates the need to quarantine for travelers returning to the UK.

The government of the Balearics has identified several locations where the outbreak may have originated, said the regional tourism chief Iago Negueruela, noting that these trips were organized by travel agencies from other regions of Spain, and that some of the activities may have violated coronavirus safety guidelines. “This type of practices must not be tolerated,” said Negueruela. The regional government will ask central authorities to take legal action against any agencies who organized or had a role in such activities. Several students in the Madrid region, who stayed at eight hotels currently under investigation, have admitted to ignoring face mask rules, said the Madrid region’s director general for Public Health, Elena Andradas.

Travelers from most Spanish regions are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test in order to enter the Balearic Islands. But this measure is not needed for visitors coming from Valencia, Murcia, Galicia, Extremadura and the North African exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, where the 14-day number of cumulative cases per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below 50.

This outbreak could be treated like a superspreader event: enclosed spaces, with lots of people, and in close proximity to one another
Toni Trill, head of epidemiology at Clínic Hospital in Barcelona

The regional health department of the Balearic Islands said that no case related to the students on vacation has been detected in the region. Nor have any contagions been recorded among the workers at the hotel where the positive cases were staying. According to the epidemiological department, the youngsters met in Mallorca during a vacation to celebrate the end of the school year between June 11 and 20. They began socializing and went together to various crowded events. The Health Ministry spokesperson indicated that so far all of the reported coronavirus cases have been minor and none has required hospitalization.

Nightclubs in the Balearic Islands are closed – they will open as part of a pilot program this weekend – but bars and music venues can stay open until 2am. Dancing is not allowed in either indoor or outdoor spaces and bar service is also prohibited. But despite these restrictions, videos shared on social media show parties in Mallorca with youths crowded together without social distancing and without wearing a face mask.

The largest number of positive cases from the outbreak has been recorded in Madrid. The regional health department reported that 320 confirmed contagions have been detected, while more than 2,000 close contacts of the positive cases are in isolation.

In Spain’s Basque Country, around 50 positive cases have been detected among students in Guipúzcoa province. The Basque health department has begun mass testing around 300 people, specifically students from several schools in the province who privately organized a trip to Palma, the capital of Mallorca. Authorities in Aragón have reported around a dozen positive cases among 15 students who traveled to the Balearic island from Alcañiz. And in Murcia and Valencia, 18 and 32 cases have been reported, respectively. In Galicia, health authorities have also recorded several coronavirus cases among students who recently arrived from the island, but they have not specified the number.

The Health Ministry is considering mass testing students who are currently on vacation in Mallorca

The central government’s risk authority also agreed on Thursday to consider as close contacts anyone who took part, or is taking part in, end-of-year vacations in Mallorca, meaning they will have to take a test and quarantine for 10 days upon their return. If the test comes back negative, it is recommended that another is done within 24 to 48 hours of the first. The Health Ministry is also considering mass testing students who are currently on vacation in Mallorca.

“This outbreak could be treated like a superspreader event: enclosed spaces, with lots of people, and in close proximity to one another,” said Toni Trill, the head of epidemiology at Clínic Hospital in Barcelona, who pointed out that tracking such cases is very difficult as it “is impossible to know who has been in contact with them in addition to their group of friends.”

Meanwhile, the incidence rate in Spain rose on Thursday for the second day in a row. This data point had been on a downward trend since April 26, when the fourth wave peaked. According to the Health Ministry report, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now 93.19, up from 92.57 on Wednesday. In total, 3,777,539 coronavirus cases have been detected since the beginning of the pandemic, while the official death toll stands at 80,766. This figure, however, is likely to be much higher given that thousands of people died without being diagnosed during the first wave, meaning they were not included in the official count.

With reporting by Ferran Bono, Lucía Bohórquez, Sonia Vizoso and Pedro Gorospe.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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