Huelva and Almeria are the two Andalucian provinces with the lowest incidence of the coronavirus and the Junta de Andalucía hopes to advance them directly to Phase I, however, its residents are not so convinced about becoming the testing ground for de-escalation measures.
IN the Plaza de la Ribera de Ayamonte in Huelva, a stone’s throw from the marina where sailboats and yachts are confined, you can hardly hear anything more than the sound of water coming from a distant fountain. Residents have become increasingly disciplined during these weeks of alarm, despite the fact that the municipality in the west of Andalucia, on the very border with Portugal, is almost immune to the coronavirus and has recorded minimal cases. Almost because in the last two weeks there have been five confirmed cases and one deceased individual, but these figures are relatively low in comparison to the rest of the autonomous community.
But Ayamonte is not an exception or an isolated case. Within the province of Huelva, a third of its municipalities can claim to be immune to the coronavirus and record no cases. On the coast of Huelva, along its 100 kilometres of white sand, there is also a similar trend, a handful of cases, some isolated deaths and no new positives in the last two weeks.
A similar situation is experienced in Almeria which, alongside Huelva, is considered to be another miracle province in Andalucia as it has efficiently battled the coronavirus and felt minimal damage. For this reason, the Andalucian executive is pressuring the central government to allow Almeria and Huelva to directly proceed to Phase 1 of the de-escalation plans.
Juan José García del Hoyo, professor of Quantitative Methods for Economy and Business at the University of Huelva (UHU) is clear on the fact that this lower incidence of the virus in Huelva and Almería “is not a miracle,” but instead, has a statistical explanation based on three factors that have acted as advantages.
According to the UHU professor, the low incidence of the coronavirus in Almeria and Huelva is due to the temperatures it experiences, its transport infrastructures and the age of its population and its mobility.
The studies of Professor García del Hoyo confirm that both Almeria and Huelva have experienced the maximum average temperatures recorded for the month of March which have been significantly higher than that of the rest of the country. He adds that March in Andalucia, and specifically in the more peripheral provinces, drier, and less rainy. A factor which he says explains “25 per cent of the low incidence” of the virus.
Another factor which must then be considered is that these two provinces have a much lower average age amongst its populations in comparison to the rest of the country. This also means less populations in care homes and fewer diagnostic tests.
Thirdly the professor argues that mobility, or rather the lack thereof, in the provinces has also affected this low incidence of the coronavirus. García del Hoyo has verified that in cities and provinces with more powerful public transport infrastructures, than those in Huelva and Almería, the spread of the virus has been greater. Huelva does not have an airport. And neither of the two miracle provinces have a metro or tram and their rail connections are scarce.
In short, this scholar comes to say, that the lesser development of Almería and Huelva have played, in this occasion, in their favour. But by no means has this been a miracle.
Ayamonte is an eminently tourist heavy municipality, which receives tourists, especially from Sevilla, Extremadura and Madrid with open arms, as well as international thanks to the proximity of the Portuguese airport of Faro, but that was before the coronavirus.
Its mayor, Natalia Santos, explains how they had to shield entrances to prevent the arrival of visitors flocking to their second homes in Easter. “We left a single entrance point open controlled by the Local Police and the Guardia Civil,” she recounts.
“Opening the closure” going faster in the de-escalation “can be dangerous,” warns the councillor, who is not supportive of being a part of an “experiment” which she says is scary.
Nor is the tourism sector enthusiastic about an express route to de-escalation. The hotels, says the president of the Tourism Council of the Huelva Federation of Entrepreneurs (FOE), Luis Arroyo, will not open until the borders between provinces are reopened. He contends that the conditions imposed by the government make the reopening of restaurants and, above all, of hotels, completely “unfeasible” at least, until July.
Saving the season, whatever is left of it, has become the goal of Huelva tourist entrepreneurs, especially small entrepreneurs, like restaurant owners or a beach bar owners, like Er Matias. Matias owns classic chiringuitos on the beaches of Punta Umbria, which on a typical day in May would be absolutely full.