No COVID-19 test, no grape harvest in Spain’s Basque Country

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By Vincent West

LAGUARDIA, Spain – All wine industry workers in Spain’s Rioja-producing region of Alava must undergo a coronavirus test before they start work to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks putting the grape harvest at risk.

Grape pickers, who have dubbed 2020 the “harvest of the masks”, will be given their own equipment, including baskets and scissors, which cannot be exchanged, to avoid infections, said a spokeswoman for the Rioja wine regulatory board.

Authorities in the Basque Country have made it compulsory for wine estates to provide a list of workers. The health department then carries out the PCR tests.

Seasonal workers living in precarious conditions were hard hit by coronavirus outbreaks this summer in Spain, prompting authorities to impose local lockdowns in fruit-growing areas. Authorities are keen to avoid a repetition as the grape harvesting season gets underway.

“Until we get the result of the test, we cannot work,” an employee in the wine industry, Quintino Benigno, told Reuters in a makeshift testing centre in Laguardia, Alava, where people waited in line wearing masks.

About 6,000 seasonal workers are employed in the Rioja harvesting campaign in the Basque Country’s Alava and the neighbouring region of La Rioja. In the latter, testing is not mandatory but COVID-19 prevention plans that include testing a number of workers are in place.

Although coronavirus cases associated with the agricultural sector have declined since the summer, official data shows they still account for 9.9% of the total.

A second wave of the coronavirus has put Spain, with the highest infection rate in Western Europe, in the spotlight.

Amid uncertainty due to a sales decrease and fewer tourists expected in the wineries due to the pandemic, the Rioja wine regulatory board has not given estimates of how hard it expects business to be hit.

“Wineries have already said they will buy grapes for lower prices and business isn’t going as we expected because of COVID,” said vine grower Cristobal Fulleda.

(Writing by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Janet Lawrence)

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SourceReuters

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