June 4, 2020 / 9:08 AM / 2 months ago

Spanish minister says land borders to open, prompts confusion

FILE PHOTO: People enjoy on La Malagueta beach as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Malaga, southern Spain June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

(Reuters) - Spain played down the possibility of reopening its land borders on June 22 after a government minister announced earlier on Thursday it would do so, prompting confusion in neighbouring Portugal, which asked for clarification.

Frontiers with France and Portugal have been shut to most people since Spain went into lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus in mid-March, faced with what was then one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus.

A government source said Madrid was still considering the plan to reopen land borders and would discuss it with France and Portugal, rowing back on remarks by Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto earlier in the day.

In a morning conference call, Maroto had told reporters:

“In the case of France and Portugal, I would like also to confirm that from June 22 the restrictions on land transport will also be removed. This is very important because it will allow us also to recover some tourists, both French and, in the case of Portugal, on land routes.”

Asked whether this meant people crossing the land borders with France and Portugal as of June 22 would have to observe a 14-day quarantine now in effect, Maroto said the lifting of the quarantine requirement still needed to be approved.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said he was surprised by Maroto’s comments and would seek clarification from Spain. “It is naturally Portugal who decides about the opening of the Portuguese border,” he told news agency Lusa.

Maroto’s ministry later released what it described as a clarification, saying border controls could be extended beyond June 21 and international tourism would reopen on July 1, without spelling out specifically what would happen at the border with France and Portugal.

Spain has registered 240,326 coronavirus cases and 27,128 deaths.

Reporting by Isla Binnie with additional reporting by Belen Carreno in Madrid and Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich

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