Due to recent changes in Fuerteventura brought about by increased COVID-19 restrictions, the Ayuntamiento de La Oliva will permit business owners in the hospitality sector who perhaps do not have an outdoor terrace to occupy part of the street so they can remain open.

As published in my previous article, Fuerteventura’s Alert Level increased to Three which means that indoor service is not permitted for the time being, however, this means that many establishments that do not have outside space have to make the difficult “choice” to close doors once again.

This Ayuntamiento will receive applications to use part of the street to set up a temporary terrace area to prevent further closures and financial loss to hard-working local business owners and their staff. Since this measure is in line with a Government Agreement on 16th December 2020 that states that “use of public domain will be exceptionally and provisionally granted during periods in which the islands are subject to Alert Level 3 and higher restrictions”, no other specifics besides either being in possession of the Opening Licences or providing proof it has been applied for have been indicated.

The Department of Commerce is responsible for processing these applications so if you are an affected party, it is well worth applying.

Who would have thought two years ago that we would live in a world where we would experience lockdowns, curfews and restrictions where we are prohibited from seeing our own family and friends? This is our new reality and we must get used to constant changes in what we are permitted to do at any given moment.

To be honest, this year, I have not really wanted to write as much because I’m COVID-out, but I have to suck it up and keep reading the daily law changes. So here is the latest I’m bringing to you after it was approved on Friday and comes into effect from tomorrow, Monday 22nd March 2021. What are the restrictions for Alert Level Three?:

  1. Travel: Restricted travel and movement of persons to and from the island except justified travel (work, emergencies…). Those who have can prove they have pre-booked in tourist establishments will be authorized entry as per Decree-Law 17/2020, 29th October.
  2. Public and Private Areas: Maximum gatherings of four people except those who reside in the same home.
  3. Curfew: We must make sure to be home between 10pm and 6am every day except for essential activities (article 5 of Royal Decree 926/2020, 25th October).
  4. Hospitals: Visits are prohibited except for patients who are minors, pregnant, terminal or in similar circumstances.
  5. Hospitality Sector: Maximum of four persons per table. The security distance between tables is the usual 2 metres. Occupancy on terraces is lowered to 50% and unfortunately service in the interior of establishments is not permitted. Nobody is allowed to be seated at the bar. Interior buffets are not permitted, however, they may take place outside. Restricted areas must be clearly marks and activities that do not allow for the safety distance between patrons are not allowed. All establishments must be closed before 10pm allowing time for staff to get home.
  6. Sport: All interior sports activities are prohibited, however, they are allowed outside as long as occupancy is decreased to 50% of the normal number of people. Groups are limited to a maximum of four including the monitor if the minimum security distance cannot be guaranteed.
  7. Transport: Obligatory use of masks and it is not permitted to eat, drink or smoke onboard. Singing, shouting, initiating conversations with other passengers and phone conversations are restricted as well (breathing is optional!!!!). We are encouraged not to travel at peak times except for essential activities.

Good luck everybody and stay safe

After the fiasco that was this week in La Oliva after our Mayor, Pilar González Segura issued an authorized increase from alert level II to level III of the municipality only to revoke it a day and a half later, there are more changes to the island’s status, only this time from the correct source.

Following on from the temporary measures decreed throughout the Canary Islands last week, yesterday, Fuerteventura has officially gone from Alert Level I to Level II due to increased cases that are no doubt a result from illegal mass gatherings and parties since Christmas and especially over New Year’s where standard security measures have not been properly observed.

A Plenary Session of the Canarian Government was held on Thursday 14th January 2021 to amend the alert levels of Lanzarote (increased to Level III), Fuerteventura (increased to Level II) and La Gomera (reduced to Level I) and came into effect yesterday, Friday 15th January until Thursday 28th January inclusive as can be seen on the released Announcement.

Restrictions for Alert Level II are:

  • Curfew: Freedom of movement is limited between 11pm and 6am every day
  • Limitations of groups of people in public and private areas: This is restricted to a maximum of FOUR persons except in the cases of co-habitants. If the group is a mixture of both co-habitants and non co-habitants, the maximum is still FOUR.
  • Specific measures for the Hotel and Restaurant Sector (terraces, bars and cafes): The maximum number of persons permitted per table is reduced from six to FOUR and the establishment must close to the public by 11pm. Activities that do not allow the required 2 metre safety distance are not permitted in terraces or other open-air spaces attached to the establishment, i.e., dancing, karaoke and similar
  • Sport Activities: Group or team sports practiced in indoor installations and sports centres that do not allow a permanent safety distance of 2 metres between persons is restricted to a maximum of FOUR persons per group including the instructor. In open-air areas, team sports that do not guarantee a permanent safety distance between participants at all times are not permitted. Group activities where it is not possible to maintain a permanent 2 metre security distance are restricted to a maximum of FOUR persons per group including the instructor (Personal Note: This last part for open-air activities seems contradictory because it is either not permitted or restricted so use discretion here)
  • Hospitals and Public Health Centres: Visitation is limited and must be supervised by health care specialists within the centres. Proper clinical face masks must be used otherwise entry will be refused.
  • Public Transport: In regular public road transport, the maximum capacity has been reduced to 50%. Police forces will be extra vigilant during peak times/ rush hour to prevent crowds from gathering at bus stops etc., and request only essential travel at these times. The frequency of bus routes will be increased and as before, food and drink may not be consumed on board and masks must be used correctly (not under the nose or chin)

These measures will be reviewed again around 28th January to see whether they have been successful or not and if the number of cases decrease, Fuerteventura may return to Alert Level I.

Personally, I am not one for checking the daily statistics of the Canary Islands as I find it too depressing to be so immersed in everything COVID-19, but since we are on the subject, the latest report of the last 24 hours shows the following:

There have been 368 new cases which takes the total number of accumulated cases in the Canary Islands to 30.946 of which there are 7.825 active cases (55 remain in Intensive Care; 300 are hospitalized and the remainder are quarantining at home). There have been four deaths (two males from Tenerife and two from Gran Canaria) aged between 49 and 82 and all with pre-existing medical conditions.

In a plenary session at the Town Hall of La Oliva held on 11th November 2020, they approved requirements to help business owners overcome financial difficulties caused by COVID-19.

The local government has set 405.000 euros aside for this line of financial aid knowing that La Oliva is principally a tourist destination and travel restrictions have hampered business owners’ ability to operate as normal. There are other possibilities lined up for 2021 to provide “real solutions to real problems”.

The grant amounts to 800 euros per applicant, but preference will be given to those who are struggling the most (and can prove it). The net income for 2019 for those who are interested in applying must not exceed 50.000 euros and they must have continued their busines activity throughout the pandemic showing more than a 20% loss since the State of Emergency began, their activity must take place in the municipality of La Oliva and their registered tax address must also be in La Oliva.

This agreement must be published in the Provincial Bulletin of Las Palmas to allow the Town Hall to officially launch the grant around the 15th December 2020. More information will hopefully become available at that time.

TERRACE TAX: The same Plenary Session unanimously approved the suspension of Terrace Tax (commercial use of public areas) during 2021. The new government in power says they were unable to reduce the charge for 2020 so instead they adjusted it for the months the premises were closed.

INSUFFICIENT HELP DURING THE PANDEMIC’S SECOND WAVE: According to information released by ATA (Association for Sole Traders), each day there are 500 small businesses that close doors forever and these business owners as well as those who perhaps continue to struggle amidst the crisis feel that not enough is being done EIGHT MONTHS into the pandemic.

Although I’m sure the government has done and continues to do everything in its power to provide assistant to individuals and business owners alike, if you think about it, the measures in place allow for employees to be placed on furlough and for the business owners to receive a maximum of 661 euros per month, but is this enough? I could not imagine being in the hot seat and being responsible for passing legislation and making the tough decisions to ensure Spain’s stability at this uncertain time, but maybe it is time for further measures to be agreed…

The critics feel it is time to reraise the question about whether it is plausible for sole traders to contribute at Social Security in accordance to their income instead of a standardized rate calculated by the Administration as it is now. At present, the 661 euros per month financial aid is based on a general calculation that has nothing to do with each individual’s standard of life.

What does this mean? Sole Traders contribute each month as per a Base Rate calculated by Social Security, whereas other European countries contribute in accordance to their income. In this current scenario, those who requested financial aid because the government initially shut down their business activity or because of decreased revenue receive monthly benefits based on the Base Rate and not on their income. So, whether your business generates a monthly profit of 500 euros or 10.000 euros, the benefits received are the same.

This method has affected people at the top end of the spectrum because it is not the same to have monthly outgoings of 5.000 euros as opposed to somebody else’s outgoings of 2.000 euros and only receive 661 euros per month as this would not cover their living expenses. If however, they contribute every month according to their real income, their finacial aid could perhaps be calculated on the average over the past 12 months and the monthly benefits received would allow them to cover their expenses in line with their lifestyle.

Contributions based on real income is a double-edged sword. Even I can see the logistical issues with this and I have commented on this many times over the past few years. Sole Trader Associations have raised this problem on numerous occasions and although Social Security has agreed to consider the possibility, nothing has come of it. The only reason I can think of is that they cannot trust business owners to be honest and decare their real income. If the majority were to underdeclare, I believe we could effectively say “adiós” to the Spanish Social Security system as it exists now because there would not be sufficient funds available to cover unemployment, sick pay, not to mention pensions.

In light of the pandemic and how people have been forced to cope over the last eight months with limited resources, I feel it is only logical for this subject to be reopened and discussed in real terms, but I am not optimistic about a positive outcome simply because of the millions that have been spent from the budget this year alone. Yet, it must also be said that if the majority could be responsible and honest in their declarations, there is no reason why this couldn’t be a way forward and it may even encourage thousands more to register their businesses legally without the pressure of a minimum 286-euro monthly contribution before getting a chance to earn for themselves.