UK government says no travel is 'risk-free' as it puts quarantine restrictions on Spain

Britain’s transport secretary has been caught out by sudden change in rules meant to curb the spread of Covid-19

Passengers wearing a face mask or covering due to the Covid-19 pandemic, react as they exit Terminal 1 after landing at Manchester Airport in Manchester, north west England on July 27, 2020 AFP
Passengers wearing a face mask or covering due to the Covid-19 pandemic, react as they exit Terminal 1 after landing at Manchester Airport in Manchester, north west England on July 27, 2020 AFP

The British government has warned its citizens that no travel is free of risk as holidaymakers and travel companies reel from a decision to put those returning from Spain in quarantine for 14 days.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that travel disruption was still possible after new outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Decisions on border measures and travel advice "can be changed rapidly if necessary to help stop the spread of the disease", the spokesman said.

"Unfortunately, no travel is risk-free during this pandemic and disruption is possible, and so anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list is under constant review as we monitor the international situation," he said.

Airline and travel shares have taken a hit and the plans of hundreds of thousands of British travellers have been left in limbo after the decision.

Health Minister Helen Whately said restrictions could be extended to countries including France or Germany, if their rates of coronavirus infections continued to rise.

"We have to keep the situation under review and I think that is what the public would expect us to do,” Ms Whately told Sky News.

"If we see rates going up in a country where at the moment there is no need to quarantine, we would have to take action because we cannot take the risk of coronavirus being spread again across the UK."

The British Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, was caught out by his department's changed travel advice, which was leaked before an official announcement on Saturday.

Pedestrians walk past a shuttered cafe bar in Salou, Spain, on Monday, July 27, 2020; Spain's tourism industry is at increasing risk of being shut down as countries across Europe seek to restrict visits to the Mediterranean nation, following an order by the British government to quarantine visitors Bloomberg
Pedestrians walk past a shuttered cafe bar in Salou, Spain, on Monday, July 27, 2020; Spain's tourism industry is at increasing risk of being shut down as countries across Europe seek to restrict visits to the Mediterranean nation, following an order by the British government to quarantine visitors Bloomberg

Mr Shapps travelled to Spain with his family on Saturday morning for a summer holiday, hours before the Department of Transport made the quarantine announcement.

During quarantine, people must not go out to work, school or public areas, or have visitors except for essential support.

They should not go out to buy food if they can rely on others.

There has been anger after the quarantine rules came into force less than six hours after they were confirmed.

Some workers have questioned whether they will be entitled to statutory sick pay if they have to isolate themselves.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, from the opposition Labour Party, called the decision chaotic.

Mr Thomas-Symonds told the BBC that the government should bring in "smarter" measures at airports rather than a blanket quarantine.

European countries started opening to each other’s tourists in mid-June, but recent events have shown that the freedom to travel is subject to setbacks.

The British announcement will be all the more painful for Spain, which relies on tourism for 11 per cent of GDP.

Almost a quarter of all arrivals in the country come from the UK, with about 18 million Britons travelling to Spain last year.

But Britain was not the only country to impose restrictions after outbreaks of the virus in the Spanish regions of Catalonia, Galicia and Aragon.

Norway ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the Iberian Peninsula and France urged its citizens not to visit Spain's Catalonia region.

The Spanish Tourism Minister, Reyes Maroto, said the government was trying to persuade Britain to exempt the Balearic Islands, which have a low infection rate, from the quarantine rule.

"We're living alongside the virus,” Ms Maroto said. “That doesn't mean we can't travel. We can, if we are careful.”

The most worrying coronavirus clusters are in Catalonia and Aragon, prompting authorities to tighten restrictions in Barcelona, in a rural area around Lleida and in Zaragoza.

Those restrictions were relaxed only a month ago.

Catalonia is facing "the 10 most decisive days of this summer", said Quim Torra, the regional president.

Mr Torra said it was in everyone's hands to prevent a "critical situation" from worsening.

TUI UK, part of the TUI holiday company, said it would cancel all holidays to mainland Spain until August 9, while maintaining flights to the Balearic and Canary islands.

"What we'd really like, and I think we are going to need this going forward as the world evolves, is a nuanced policy," TUI managing director, Andrew Flintham, told the BBC.

Updated: July 27, 2020 11:47 PM

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