Spain to further ease restrictions, won't rush on border opening

People enjoy on La Malagueta beach as some Spanish provinces are allowed to ease lockdown restrictions during phase two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Malaga

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will further ease a coronavirus lockdown in its two main cities from Monday, but will not start opening its borders to foreign tourists before July 1 while it seeks a common European stance on safe travel, the government said on Friday.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said some restrictions would be lifted in Madrid and Barcelona, which have so far lagged behind the rest of the country's easing programme.

From Monday, bar and restaurant patrons will be allowed to sit inside rather than exclusively on outdoor terraces, while children will be able to play outside at any time of day.

On Thursday, Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said land borders would reopen from June 22, causing some confusion, as well as criticism in neighbouring Portugal.

"There has been no change in the government's position since day one," government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero told a news briefing, referring to the previously announced July 1 date.

Despite relying heavily on tourism, which generates some 12% of GDP, hard-hit Spain has been reluctant to open its borders without a European Union-wide agreement.

In a joint letter to the European Commission, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Italy's Giuseppe Conte called for a reopening plan based on "common, clear and transparent epidemiological criteria", also proposing that EU members agree on infection incidence thresholds for third countries.

In a sign that consumer appetite is beginning to return, data showed bank card spending rose by 16% in May after plunging in April, when industrial output slumped 34% according to a separate data release.

But in a reminder of the devastation wrought by the virus, Spain fell silent for a minute at midday, marking the end of a 10-day mourning period for the 27,134 people who have died. There have been 240,978 cases of the infection.

In Madrid, which accounts for about a third of the deaths, reactions to the easing were not universally positive.

"I think it's a bit risky and if there's another outbreak I don't know if we will have enough resources," dental hygienist Noemi Seco told Reuters. "I know lots of people who work in hospitals and we're stretched very thin."


(Reporting by Belén Carreño, Guillermo Rodriguez, Inti Landauro, Clara-Laeila Laudette; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Andrei Khalip)