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Spain and Portugal urge caution as border reopens amid new COVID-19 outbreaks

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(L-R) Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Spain's King Felipe VI, Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, in Elvas, 1/7/20.
(L-R) Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Spain's King Felipe VI, Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, in Elvas, 1/7/20.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Armando Franca
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It's the longest national border in Europe and after months of lockdown, it can now be crossed normally.

In a formal ceremony attended by both countries' heads of state and government on Wednesday (July 1), the frontier was reopened for the first time since the coronavirus lockdowns were imposed -- and ten days later than border restrictions were eased in the rest of the Schengen area.

However, the leaders urged caution. Portugal has the second-highest rate of COVID-19 infections per inhabitant in Europe, and 19 districts to the north of Lisbon are once again locked down. Meanwhile, dozens of new coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in Spain since the country relaxed restrictions.

"We are going to have to continue living with this virus on both sides of the border, in every city, everyone. We need to be disciplined and respect the rules," warned Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stressed that moves to reopen borders were taken for scientific, not political reasons.

"In the end, all the criteria on which the decision taken by the European Union has been based are absolutely and strictly epidemiological, nothing to do with diplomacy," he said.

After the ceremony in Badajoz, the delegations travelled to Elvas, a Portuguese town highly dependent on Spanish tourists -- and where lockdown was a severe blow to the economy.

"We should never have closed our borders. Whoever died would have died, and those who survived would have survived. And this should have remained as it was. We had a huge nervous breakdown," one resident said.

However, many praised the Portuguese government's prudence and resolution in its management of the crisis.

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leaders stand for national anthems during a ceremony to mark the reopening of the Portugal/Spain border in Elvas, Portugal, July 1, 2020.AP Photo/Armando Franca
AP Photo/Armando Franca
Spain's King Felipe VI, Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, foreground, Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, background.AP Photo/Armando Franca
AP Photo/Armando Franca
(L-R): Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Spain's King Felipe VI, Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa, in Elvas, 1/7/20AP Photo/Armando Franca