A few meters away from Palma Bellver hotel in Mallorca, a group of foreigners is sitting at a well-known Irish pub, watching England take on Germany in the UEFA European Football Championship. Their faces are painted with the colors of the German flag, and they are drinking beer in the outdoor dining area to make the most of the warm June weather. The Palma Bellver hotel is just around the corner, but these tourists have no idea that the 13-story building is being used to confine 249 youngsters who tested positive for the coronavirus or are considered a close contact as a result of a mass outbreak following end-of-term student trips to the Spanish island.
A judge will decide on Wednesday whether to ratify a resolution by the Balearic Islands regional government ordering youngsters to be forcibly quarantined in the hotel – a measure that the public prosecutor has opposed. The Spanish Health Ministry reported on Monday that more than 1,000 cases linked to the outbreak have been detected across Spain and nearly 5,000 people are in isolation.
At first sight, there is nothing to indicate that the Palma Bellver is being used as a so-called ‘Covid hotel.’ The doors are closed. No police are standing guard. But soon music can be heard playing full blast from one of the balconies of the hotel rooms. Three girls are dancing. Another youth on a lower floor yells something unintelligible. The feet of two people can be seen peeking over the balcony of another room. Cars that pass by the hotel honk their horns. “Get off the island” screams one driver as he waits at the traffic light.
“Now they are calm because the soccer match is on,” says one of the security officers who has been working at Palma Bellver hotel. According to him, the confined youngsters are “more or less quiet” during the day, but at night “they hook up in the rooms” and cause more problems. Last night, for example, officers received constant noise complaints from the neighbors and guests at the next-door hotel. When they arrived, music was blaring from some rooms, objects were being thrown into the street from balconies and youngsters were screaming at pedestrians below.
Antonio, who lives on the first floor of the building next door to the hotel, says that “more than noise, it was a party.” He says two of his neighbors called the police in the early hours of the morning because the situation had become out of control, and a patrol came out to restore order. “They have left the interior hallway [of the building] filled with crap, they throw entire tubs of yogurt, food. It’s shameful,” says Antonio.
The Balearic Islands regional government is in charge of providing the youths with food – which is brought in from Son Llátzer de Palma Hospital – and meeting their basic hygiene needs. Authorities have paid €1,673,000 to rent the four-star hotel until October 31, and it is being used to accommodate all tourists who need to quarantine. On Monday, the regional government approved €99,998 in urgent spending for security at the hotel, which has 383 rooms and is run by the Meliá group. But based on the demand for food delivery at the hotel, it would appear that the government-provided meals have not been very successful. Three deliveries arrive in just 20 minutes.
A security guard opens the door to let the delivery people in. He explains that the youngsters can order food and anything else they need via cellphone apps. The packages are then left at reception, which organizes it to be delivered to the respective rooms. Alcohol is banned, but local police are investigating whether some bar owners of the seaside promenade have been finding ways to sneak the youngsters drinks. According to security at the Palma Bellver hotel, the students have been throwing down buckets tied to sheets from their balconies, which they then pull up once the alcohol has been put inside. In addition to the quarantined youngsters, 33 foreign tourists, some with children, are also in isolation at the hotel for being either a close contact of a positive case or contracting the virus.
As night sets in, the music and the singing become incessant. The youngsters continue to yell from their balconies and passers-by stop on the sidewalk to see what is happening. Every now and again, sheets with messages asking to leave the hotel are waved from the balconies. Some say “we want to leave, we tested negative” and others “freedom, freedom.” Drivers at the traffic light outside can’t help but look at the chaotic scene. “Get me out of here, bastards,” yells one youngster from his balcony. One of the drivers responds: “Jump, I’ll catch you.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.