The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab has stood by his government’s sudden decision to impose a two-week coronavirus quarantine on travellers returning from Spain, which has provoked anger and confusion among tourists.
The move to take Spain off a safe-travel list was announced late on Saturday and took effect from midnight (23:00 GMT on Saturday), leaving travellers with no time to plan ahead.
Raab defended the imposition of the quarantine as a “real-time response” to a jump in Spain’s coronavirus cases reported on Friday, the latest in a month-long resurgence in infections.
“We can’t make apologies… we must be able to take swift, decisive action,” he told Sky News.
The opposition Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government for its “frankly shambolic” handling of the measure, which has scuppered the plans of many would-be holidaymakers.
The move will also hit hard at the Spanish tourism sector just as it is starting to recover from months of coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions.
At Madrid’s Barajas airport, Emily Harrison, who was taking a flight to London, mulls the prospect of having to self-isolate for two weeks.
“It’s really bad because it’s just come all of a sudden, it’s not given very much time to prepare, so everyone is now panicking,” said Harrison, who is from Essex.
“We had a wedding to go to, and we had plans to visit friends and family who we haven’t seen in a very long time, and now we are going to have to cancel all those plans, so it’s really quite upsetting.”
Spain had been on a list of countries that the British government had said were safe for travellers to visit, meaning tourists returning home would not have to go into quarantine.
But it has seen cases rise in the last few weeks, prompting most regions to impose rules for masks to be worn everywhere and, in several areas including Barcelona, calls for people to stay at home.
A Spanish foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Saturday evening that Spain “respects decisions of the United Kingdom” and was in touch with the authorities there.
Spain was one of the European countries worst-hit by the pandemic, with more than 290,000 cases and more than 28,000 deaths. It imposed very strict lockdown measures to contain the spread, gradually easing them earlier in the summer.
The British decision follows steps by Norway on Friday to re-impose a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain, while France advised people not to travel to Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia.
A collapse of tourism from Britain would have a significant impact on Spain’s economy, where tourism accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Britons made up more than 20 percent of foreign visitors to Spain last year, the largest group by nationality.