The Spanish Canary Islands is the first place in Europe to ban smoking in public in effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
The ban, which took effect on Oct. 8, aims to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in the holiday hotspot through more effective distancing measures.
Europe is grappling with a marked resurgence in the number of people infected with the coronavirus.
The Canary Islands is an autonomous community in the Atlantic Ocean that consists of eight main islands; the most famous holiday centers are Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Palma. (Spain currently has 861,112 cases and nearly 33,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.)
Authorities “cannot guarantee the keeping of social distancing” while people are “walking and smoking in public streets,” per an official statement.
The measure will be instated across the Islands. Locals and visitors also have to wear face masks in public. Those failing to comply will initially be fined at 100 euros ($118) and 3,000 euros ($354) if repeated.
Social events will be subject to different restrictions, depending on the “epidemiological situation” on local and regional level.
Events with 10 or more people will be prohibited in islands that have reported more than 50 cases per 100,000 citizens and an increase of over 10% in the accumulated number of cases within the past two weeks. Smaller gatherings will be submitted to “strict safety measures.”
Bars will also be required to close by midnight.
The Islands will have to wait for their numbers to go down consistently — seven to 10 days — before the new measures can be re-evaluated, the provincial government said.
The decision comes after the regional government recently announced the Canary Islands will cover all directly related costs if tourists are infected with the coronavirus while on holiday in the region.
The scheme, which is managed by French insurer AXA, would pay for medical expenses, accommodation and additional costs from prolonged stays due to quarantine, as well as repatriation costs.
The highly unusual step was deemed necessary to reactivate the all-important tourism industry, which accounts for more than 40% of all jobs in the region.
The region has not been as hard hit by the coronavirus as mainland Spain, but tourism has suffered greatly during the pandemic, given the general drop in global travel activity and travel restrictions imposed on Spain. The country’s tourism sector as a whole lost 27 million visitors and over $33 billion in the first half of 2020, compared to the same time period last year.
In total, there have been over 15,000 COVID-19 cases registered in the Canary Islands since the outbreak of the pandemic. At present, there are 6,879 active cases in the Islands, with 216 people hospitalized and 59 of them in intensive care.
In 2019, the Islands registered a total of 13.1 million tourists, with Germans and Britons the largest groups, according to the Spanish National Statistical Institute. This year, most summer tourists have stayed away, especially since both Germany and the U.K. issued advisories against all nonessential trips to Spain in August.
The Canary Islands had received 3.1 million tourists up to the end of July this year.
(Edited by Fern Siegel and Carlin Becker)