By Nathan Allen
TENERIFE, Spain (Reuters) - At least 50 guests left a Tenerife hotel in small groups on Friday, four days into a 14-day quarantine imposed because of the coronavirus. Nearly 700 holidaymakers remained stranded in the compound.
The Canary Islands regional government on Thursday cleared 130 of the guests to leave the hotel, but most of those released so far were Spaniards, while the departure of foreign visitors will continue until Sunday, regional health chief Teresa Cruz told reporters.
"They'll be leaving based on the responses we receive from their consulates, and the (availability of) flights", she said, adding that nobody would be allowed to leave the premises without a confirmed flight booking.
The remaining guests must stay cloistered in the hotel until March 10 unless their home government organises charter flights that comply with isolation protocols, Canaries regional leader Angel Victor Torres said.
Speaking outside the hotel, Torres insisted authorities had the situation under control and praised the local health service's swift response.
Earlier, an elderly couple could be seen leaving in an ambulance. But the authorities said there have been no new cases of coronavirus since the virus was detected in four Italian tourists earlier this week.
Half a dozen guests, including a baby in a pram, underwent temperature scans in the back of the hotel before boarding the first minibus, a video shot by hotel guest Christopher Betts, showed. One of the people boarding said he was from Belgium.
Spain now needs to liaise with the governments of the remaining hundreds of guests, to establish monitoring protocols before they are allowed to return home, said Fernando Simon, director of Spain's Centre of Coordination of Health Emergencies.
A small group of guests who showed symptoms or who came into close contact with the infected Italians must complete the isolation period in their rooms, even though they have tested negative for the virus, Simon said.
NUMBERS RISE ACROSS SPAIN
Cruz insisted there was an atmosphere of "normality" inside the hotel.
Guests without symptoms are allowed to circulate freely, using the restaurants and swimming pools, as long as they wear protective masks, wash their hands regularly and check their temperature twice a day, according to instructions from the health authority.
Inside the grounds, videos showed children playing and guests lounging around a pool flanked by palm trees, the masks on their faces the only indication of the health scare.
Some guests complained that basic safety measures such as wearing masks and regular hand-washing were being ignored.
"There are some people who have taken it well, and others who are of course rather anxious," Cruz said.
Spain's total number of coronavirus cases rose to 35 on Friday. The bulk of them were linked to Italy, the site of Europe's worst outbreak with a death toll of 17.
One of the cases involved a sports reporter from Valencia who had recently travelled to Milan. The Valencia soccer club announced on Friday the suspension of all non-sports indoor events such as news conferences "that present risk to players, coaching staff and club staff".
The coronavirus can spread via droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes out, and these can also contaminate surfaces such as door handles and railings.
(Additional reporting by Miguel Pereira, Guillerme Martinez, Emma Pinedo, Clara-Laeila Laudette; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Larry King and Frances Kerry)