German tourists fly to Mallorca in post-COVID test

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Spain will open its borders on June 21, more than a week ahead of schedule

A planeload of German tourists flew Monday to Spain's Mallorca island, taking part in a test of plans to reopen the popular destination as the country emerges from its coronavirus lockdown.

The 180 Germans flew from Duesseldorf to Mallorca, the largest island in the sunny Balearic archipelago, six days before Spain is to open its borders in general on June 21.

Almost 11,000 tourists from Germany are to follow in the coming days.

"We are very, very glad to be here," said George Kasbach, who lives near Cologne and owns an apartment on the Mediterranean island that he visits several times a year.

Compatriot Daniel Wiener added: "We know that it's a privilege for us to come here. It feels like paradise."

Kasbach had followed the coronavirus epidemic in Spain closely, and said he felt safe because "there are not many ill people at the moment" on the islands.

"We come here several times a year," he said.

Mallorca is a second home to many Germans who call it their country's "17th state", and find almost everything they want in their native language.

Michael Driesch, 56, was also on the flight and also had no worries about flying to Palma because the islands "are not a hotspot in Spain.

"It's more dangerous to drive from Hamburg to Munich," or the length of Germany from north to south, he joked.

Regional Spanish officials and tour operators set up the pilot programme as a test for the Spanish tourism sector, which accounts for about 12 percent of gross domestic product.

- Ahead of schedule -

Spain decided to open its borders in general and ease nationwide coronavirus restrictions on June 21, more than a week ahead of schedule.

The country had one of the tightest lockdown measures in Europe, along with one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates at more than 27,000.

The pilot project will be subject to strict health guidelines and visitors will have their temperature taken on arrival, but will not be quarantined, regional authorities have said.

A follow-up phone check is scheduled to catch virus symptoms if they apppear.

"It seems like a great dry-run" to test protocols set up for the nation's other tourist areas as well, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

Spain is the world's second most popular travel destination after France, with Mallorca attracting around 4.5 million Germans alone last year.

The Balearic island chain also includes Menorca, Ibiza - known for its club scene -- and Formentera.

On June 5, Spanish police arrested five drug dealers near Barcelona and seized 100,000 ecstasy pills that a statement said were "destined for Ibiza, to coincide with the start of the summer season."

Spain will open its borders on June 21, more than a week ahead of schedule

"It's more dangerous to drive from Hambourg to Munich," a German tourist joked