The coronavirus pandemic has led to widespread travel restrictions between Spain and the United Kingdom, with foreign trips all but banned by the British government until recently and Spanish authorities setting strict limits for entry. The disruption has had a side effect, meanwhile, which is to mask the changes that have also been brought into force thanks to Brexit, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. In recent weeks, rumors have abounded on social media as to requirements for entry into Spain when traveling from the UK, as well as other aspects of the post-Brexit world. Below you will find a summary of recent advice from Spain, the British government, the UK embassy in Madrid and support groups assisting citizens post-Brexit.
Entering Spain from the UK
Since May 24, Spain has been allowing travelers from the United Kingdom to enter the country without the need to supply a negative test for coronavirus. Also gone are the restrictions that had been in place since Christmas time – when a more-contagious coronavirus variant was detected in England – that limited entry to Spanish nationals, those with residency, and a handful of other exceptions. Despite claims on social media to the contrary, there is currently no need to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19 when traveling to Spain from the United Kingdom. According to the gov.uk official advice, “travelers from the UK should be prepared to present evidence of a negative test if they have traveled to a country on Spain’s list of ‘risk countries’ in the 14 days prior to travel.” The site adds that “in some parts of Spain, a negative test is required when checking into tourist accommodation or when traveling to the islands from mainland Spain.” You can find the full information from the gov.uk website about travel from the UK to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein here.
Form filling for travelers
One thing that visitors will still have to do before reaching Spain is complete a health form, which can be found at this address. Spain remains on the UK’s “amber list” of countries for now, meaning that people making the opposite journey, from Spain to the UK, will have to take a number of pre-travel steps. These include filling out a passenger locator form, taking a coronavirus test to present at the UK border, as well as booking two home PCR tests, which must be taken during an obligatory 10-day quarantine period once back in the UK. Only when these 10 days have passed and both tests come back negative can quarantine end, although there is an option to shorten the period slightly by paying extra to use the government’s “test to release” scheme.
‘Carta de invitación’
There has been a lot of speculation recently both on social media and in the press about whether UK visitors to Spain who are coming to stay with friends and family, and do not have tourist accommodation booked, have to complete and pay for a carta de invitación, an official form that specifies who you will be staying with while in Spain. The form includes a range of information, including the personal details of the invitee and the invited, the relationship between both parties, and the planned length of stay. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau Spain, “many visitors from third countries such as the USA or Australia to name a few, have not been asked for an invitation letter on arrival in Spain.” And it would appear for now that it is not being requested of UK nationals arriving in the country either.
A British Embassy spokesperson told EL PAÍS: “British nationals visiting Spain should be prepared to show proof of return or onward journey, sufficient funds for their visit and proof of accommodation, such as a hotel booking confirmation, proof of address if visiting a second home or an invitation from a host, at the border. The Spanish government has clarified that the carta de invitation is one of the options available to demonstrate proof of accommodation if staying with a host in a private home.
“British nationals should check FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] travel advice for details of entry requirements and travel restrictions that may be in place because of Covid-19.”
The full advice on entry at the gov.uk website is very similar:
“At Spanish border control, you may need to use separate lanes from EU, European Economic Area and Swiss citizens when queueing. Your passport may be stamped on entry and exit. You may also need to:
- show a return or onward ticket
- show you have enough money for your stay
- show proof of accommodation for your stay, for example, a hotel booking confirmation, proof of address if visiting your own property (e.g. second home), or an invitation from your host or proof of their address if staying with a third party, friends or family. The Spanish Government has clarified that the carta de invitation is one of the options available to prove that you have accommodation if staying with friends or family. More information is available from the Spanish Ministry of Interior.”
Conclusions? The carta de invitación does not appear to be a requirement for UK nationals for now, but that could still change in the future. In the meantime, be prepared to supply the other aforementioned documents on arrival at the Spanish border.
TIE residency cards
One of the most persistent rumors that the Brexpats in Spain campaigning group has sought to address is that of a reported “deadline” for UK nationals resident in Spain to swap their green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión) for the new TIE plastic identity card. While there is still no official deadline to do this, the British Embassy has just changed its advice on the issue, and now recommends that the TIE be obtained “for ease of identity and sturdiness,” Anne Hernández from Brexpats in Spain reports in a Facebook post after meeting with the British Embassy in Madrid. Despite this advice, however, the green certificates will still remain valid.
As Sue Wilson points out in a Facebook post on the Bremain in Spain website, another benefit of the TIE card is that it carries a photo, and “your [Withdrawal Agreement] rights are visible, so hence easier for other EU countries to recognize/easier to travel in general.” Wilson also addresses the high volume of requests for the application process for TIE cards, explaining that “resources have been put in place in some areas – notably in the Alicante province – to deal with the backlog.” She continues: “It is not necessary, where you have the choice, to go to the nearest police station in your province, so if you are able to travel a bit further, you may find it easier to get an appointment. Your nearest office may have a backlog, but your second nearest may have nobody waiting at all.”
The British ambassador in Spain, Hugh Elliot, has published the following video with his advice on the issue.
Since Brexit came into force on January 1, 2021, and freedom of movement ended for UK nationals, British visitors to EU countries can expect to have their passports stamped when arriving and leaving. However, under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, this should not be happening for UK nationals with valid residency in Spain. A spokesperson for the British embassy recently told EL PAÍS: “UK nationals who hold a valid residence document (TIE or green EU residence certificate) will not need a visa, should not have their passport stamped or be subject to routine intentions questioning, nor be required to prove sufficient means of subsistence at the Schengen border. If you have had a stamp placed in your passport, this will be null and void once you are in Spain/the EU as your residence permit negates its effect. If you are a resident of Spain, you should always travel with your valid passport and residence document. Showing your residence document should negate any stamp in your passport when entering or exiting the external Schengen Border in the future.”
When I traveled at Easter, however, my passport was stamped on my outgoing journey from Spain before I could ask the police officer not to do so. My personal recommendation, based on this experience, is that you present your residency card with your passport and request that your document not be stamped at the Spanish border. Whether the officer in question will comply is another story…
Another issue being faced by UK nationals resident in Spain post-Brexit is the issue of exchanging driving licenses. Here is the latest information on this issue direct from the British Embassy.
Ryanair boarding passes
A recent rumor that appeared both on social media and in some online newspapers claimed that UK nationals would no longer be permitted to use online boarding passes when flying into the European Union, as per screenshots that were widely circulated of the budget airline’s terms and conditions. I recently contacted Ryanair, however, who confirmed that this is not true and that mobile boarding passes are still available to British nationals. “Additional questions may need to be answered in the online check-in process but mobile passes will still be administered once this is complete,” the Ryanair press office stated.
Voting rights for UK nationals resident in the EU
One piece of good news for UK nationals living abroad arrived this week: British citizens will be given “votes for life” as the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scrapping the current 15-year limit on voting rights. The restriction has meant that until now anyone who has lived outside of the UK for more than that time period cannot vote in general elections or referendums – including the 2016 vote on Brexit. According to a statement from the British embassy in Spain, “decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defense, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.
“The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place.”
In a statement, UK ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott said: “In an increasingly connected world, most British citizens living in Spain retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family there, worked there for many years, and some have even fought for our country. They deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament, no matter where they live, and I am delighted that UK nationals living in Spain will now be able to participate in our democracy.”
Weeding out the disinformation
If you are affected by the issues that have been discussed above and want to avoid rumors and disinformation, my advice is to sign up for updates from the UK government about living in Spain here, and start to follow the following groups and accounts on Facebook: Citizens Advice Bureau Spain, British Embassy in Madrid, Brexpats in Spain, and Bremain in Spain. The official travel advice from the UK government is here. You can find all of the English Edition stories about Brexit here, and can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest stories as we publish them.
For any updates or corrections to this story, please contact the author Simon Hunter via his Twitter account.
‘Cancer care can’t stop’: flood-hit Assam hospital uses boats to reach patients | Global development
When the flood water roared into her home in Assam, Jyoti Bora* saw the morphine pills she takes for head and neck cancer swept away along with all her belongings. At the relief camp she was evacuated to, Bora, who uses a wheelchair, found a boat to take her to the hospital to get more medication.
But when she got to Cacher cancer hospital and research centre she found the entrance flooded – the water was 1.5 metres high. A hospital orderly and a nurse were dispatched in a raft, made from planks of plywood tied to tyre inner tubes, to collect her.
“Initially, she refused to get on. She was very frightened. As it is she is frail. But she knew she could not manage without her morphine injection,” says her doctor, surgical oncologist and deputy director of Cacher, Ritesh Tapkire. “That’s how our outpatients have been coming for radiation, chemotherapy and pain relief for the past week.”
About 5 million people in Assam, in India’s north-east, have been affected by the worst floods in decades, which began in April and show little significant signs of easing. Entire villages have been submerged. More than 114,000 hectares (280,000 acres) of crops have been damaged and 5,000 livestock washed away. The army and relief workers are providing food, medicines and drinking water to 780 camps for those displaced by the flooding.
Cacher hospital, which has 150 beds and treats 20,000 patients a year, got off fairly lightly. One building was flooded at the end of June, along with the nurses’ hostel, but the wards were spared as they are built on higher ground. Radiation and chemotherapy have continued for the 100 patients admitted to the hospital, although a lack of anaesthesia meant only four operations were carried out in a week, instead of the usual 20.
Since the floods, the big issue for staff has been ensuring patients continue receiving treatment. People travel to Cacher hospital from all over the state. It is run by a non-profit and most patients are on low incomes and receive free or subsidised treatment. The north-east of India is known as the “cancer capital” of the country, and cases are double the national average. Lifestyle is a big factor – high consumption of alcohol, betel nut and tobacco – combined with low awareness of symptoms, late detection and a lack of oncologists and facilities to diagnose and treat cases.
Cacher staff have been calling patients who have not kept appointments to check they have enough medication. They have also got into boats to collect people from their homes and bring them to the hospital, and made rafts to take them inside. They have also set up a makeshift outpatient department (OPD) on a patch of dry land outside the hospital to give out basic medicines and pain killers. Morphine injections given here too, in the middle of swirling flood waters, for patients too scared of the raft ride into the hospital.
“A patient with multiple myeloma came for her chemotherapy session and she refused to get on to the raft. She was petrified. Fortunately, her chemotherapy was only one hour long, did not need close monitoring or have side-effects, so after checking her vitals, we administered it on the dry patch,” says Tapkire.
Last Monday, the niece of an elderly woman with metastatic breast cancer called the hospital in tears, asking for help. The hospital director, Dr Ravi Kannan, dispatched a team from the hospital to collect her. The woman had to be lowered from the second floor of her home, where she and her family had sought safety, into a boat and taken to the hospital.
The State Disaster Response Force has now given the hospital inflatable boats and rafts to make ferrying patients to and from the hospital a little easier.
Kannan is worried people are missing out on treatment. On a normal day, the OPD has between 150 and 200 patients. In the past week, it has seen only 40 people. “We need to reach out to every patient who has not been able to come. Cancer care cannot be interrupted. It bothers us no end,” he says.
Ranjita Singha, 60, who has cervical cancer, ran out of morphine and was unable to reach the hospital. Her daughter, Babita Singha, is her main carer.
“When the doctor called, I told them that my mother had only one pill left. They arrived here by boat to give me more pills and also gave her a morphine injection for immediate relief,” says Babita.
The woman with metastatic breast cancer who was rescued from the second floor of her home died the next day. Kannan says he wondered if bringing her to the hospital was the wrong decision. Until he received a note from her niece.
“For days they had sat by her, dreading her dying, surrounded by water, in the dark in the middle of the night. By bringing her to hospital, where she had light and medical care; the niece said we had spared the family the agony of living with such a painful memory,” says Kannan.
* Name changed
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Eduardo Zapateiro: Colombian army chief resigns to avoid appearing beside president-elect Petro at inauguration | International
General Eduardo Zapateiro, the commander of the Colombian army, resigned on Tuesday to avoid appearing beside president-elect Gustavo Petro at his inauguration on August 7. “After 40 years in service, I bid farewell to the Colombian people, giving my heartfelt thanks to all my soldiers,” he announced.
Zapateiro, who comes from the hardline wing of the armed forces, has been a vocal opponent of the leftist leader. During the presidential election campaign, the army commander controversially spoke out against Petro on Twitter – a move that was condemned as unconstitutional. Incumbent President Iván Duque, however, defended Zapateiro, arguing that the general was sharing his point of view – not taking a political stand.
Zapateiro announced his retirement just one day after Petro told EL PAÍS that he planned to change the leadership of the armed forces. “This leadership was deeply imbued by the political line of the executive [of Iván Duque] now reaching the end of its term. But this path is unsustainable and turns our security forces into a victim, as they have been led to perpetrate grotesque violations of human rights. What we are proposing will make our security forces democratically stronger,” he said in the interview.
The Colombian general has often raised eyebrows with his behavior. Following the death of Jhon “Popeye” Jairo Velásquez, a henchman for drug lord Pablo Escobar who had killed dozens of people, Zapateiro sent his condolences to his family and said he was saddened by his loss. To this day, no one has explained why the general made these statements.
In Colombia, the government and the military have a complex relationship. The country has fought for decades against guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ongoing armed struggle placed the military in a position of great power. Indeed until the 1990s, the armed forces controlled the Defense Ministry. As in many other countries, the Colombian armed forces are a conservative group that is highly suspicious of leftist ideas. The peace agreement, for example, that ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, divided Colombia’s troops. Zapateiro initially supported the accords, but over time, became an outspoken critic.
What kind of relationship Petro will form with the military remains to be seen. As a politician, he has been very critical of the army’s focus on targeting internal enemies. The Colombian armed forces have been fighting against guerrilla groups and drug gangs for decades. During this conflict, they have often overstepped their bounds and violated human rights.
In the early 2000s, a scandal broke in Colombia when it was revealed that military officers were carrying out summary executions of innocent civilians and listing them as guerrillas killed in combat. These so-called “false positives” took place in different regions of the country between 2002 and 2008 and were used as proof of performance by military units and to collect “kill fees” awarded by the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. A total of 6,402 innocent people are estimated to have been killed in these summary executions. Just a few months ago, several civilians also died in suspicious circumstances during an army operation in Putumayo.
With Petro elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in modern history, it was no longer tenable to have Zapeteiro leading the armed forces. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an editorial to that effect, with the headline: “Isn’t it time to retire, General Zapateiro?”
Petro aims to tackle corruption within the army, which he believes is home to extremist factions. “There are currents in the far right that must be eliminated. Some are talking openly about coups and things like that. But look, within the army there are no factions friendly to Petro, there are factions friendly to the Constitution,” Petro told EL PAÍS.
Canada should focus on abortion access not legislation, advocates say | Global development
Abortion advocates are warning that the recent US supreme court ruling overturning Roe v Wade will empower anti-choice groups in Canada to push for restricted access, making a settled matter appear controversial in a country where nearly 80% of people are pro-choice.
A key anti-choice strategy in Canada revolves around enacting abortion legislation – an idea that has been gaining traction amid the fallout of the US court ruling. There is currently no abortion law in Canada, making it the only country in the world where the procedure is totally free of legal restrictions.
“There’s a lot of talk right now about whether or not the Canadian government should pass a proactive law protecting our right to abortion – a pre-emptive strike, if you will. That would be a big mistake,” said Daphne Gilbert, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Gilbert and other abortion advocates say that while enshrining abortion rights may sound progressive, the opposite is true: consolidating rules would make it easier for anti-choice legislators to retract abortion rights if ever they found themselves in a majority. Last year, 81 Conservative MPs (and one independent) voted for anti-choice legislation.
And while the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised Canadians after Roe that his government would “always stand up for your right to choose”, advocates argue that may not always be true.
That’s why the country should focus on entrenching people’s rights by expanding abortion access, said Gilbert.
Since it became legal in a 1988 supreme court ruling, abortion in Canada has been designated as a medical service like any other, on par with procedures like X-rays and blood tests. But that doesn’t make it easy to get – especially in remote, religious or conservative parts of the country.
In 2014, Sarah (who asked to remain anonymous) sought an abortion on Prince Edward Island (PEI) – a province of 30,000 that, at the time, did not have a single publicly operating abortion provider.
It took Sarah a month to finally secure a provider – five hours away, in another province. The trip incurred travel and lodging costs, but the procedure itself was covered by the healthcare authority.
“The idea that anybody has to travel to take care of something that you should be able to get done close to home – it’s not fine,” said Sarah. Abortion care only arrived on PEI in 2017, after activists sued the provincial government for acting unconstitutionally.
Although there is no federal law, each province’s medical college sets its own guidelines on abortion, including gestational age limits for use of the abortion pill.
Those guidelines are shaped by the skills and training available in each province, said Martha Paynter, an abortion care provider in Nova Scotia and the author of the new book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada.
But there is also a political dimension to providing abortion care that prevents some doctors and nurse practitioners from taking it up.
“More people could be doing it than are doing it,” said Paynter. “We as educators – I’m a prof at a nursing school – have the responsibility to teach in every medical and nursing program how to do this care, and hardly [any school] does it.”
Paynter is the creator of the country’s first university abortion course, at Dalhousie University, which is open to students across medical, nursing and other health programs with the purpose of inspiring future health workers to integrate abortion access into primary care.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists offers an online course to teach professionals how to prescribe and manage medical abortion.
But most students and healthcare professionals are not required to learn about how medication and surgical abortion work – and many choose to abstain because they are afraid to enter the political fray around abortion.
According to Gilbert, that means a lot of primary care providers stay wilfully uninformed.
“A lot of doctors just aren’t political people. They’re scientists, and they don’t see the politics behind some of their care,” she said.
Further complicating access is the fact that many Canadians are unaware that nurse practitioners in the country are permitted to prescribe the abortion pill and refer patients to surgical abortion providers – or that most patients can self-refer directly to an abortion provider.
Addressing these issues is critical to expanding existing access to medication and surgical abortion, said Paynter and Gilbert.
In 2017, Natalie (also a pseudonym) discovered she was pregnant while visiting her parents in a small town in northern Alberta. After one doctor at a local walk-in clinic told her abortion was murder, she demanded an appointment with a different doctor.
That doctor told her that there was no such thing as medical abortion. “He looked me in the face and said, ‘That doesn’t exist,’” she said.
Mifegymiso – otherwise known as the abortion pill – was approved by Health Canada in 2015, but had only recently hit the market when Natalie found herself at the doctor’s office.
“I know it exists. It’s literally the front page of the news,” she told him.
Still, she went away empty-handed. She was only able to get an abortion after returning to her home province of New Brunswick, where only three hospitals and one clinic provide abortion. Natalie went to the clinic, where she paid $800 for a surgical abortion – a cost incurred because the province refuses to pay for abortions performed outside of hospitals.
New Brunswick is currently being sued for its restriction of abortion.
Stories like those of Sarah and Natalie show how abortion remains inaccessible in Canada, despite its federal legal standing.
“Our greatest problems really come in terms of provinces and what they may do to restrict access to abortion in light of what I think is now going to be a really emboldened anti-choice movement,” said Gilbert.
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