UK reimposes quarantine on visitors to Spain

Visitors already in Spain were not given time to get home to avoid the new quarantine

A Spanish flag waves on the beach in Cadiz province. AP
A Spanish flag waves on the beach in Cadiz province. AP

Britain has imposed a new two-week quarantine for people returning from Spain, as the continent watches for hotspots of new cases amid fears that a second wave of coronavirus could hit Europe.

The new restriction starts at midnight UK time (3am AD) on Sunday and is a dramatic reversal to the previous opening up of Spain as a safe holiday destination for British tourists.

The UK government announced the ban just a few hours before it came into effect meaning tourists already in Spain had no way to get home before the quarantine rule was in effect.

"We have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK. We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary," a government spokesperson said.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned of a second wave if the measures were not taken but opposition figures said the handling had been shambolic.

Spanish leaders said the country was safe with what they have called localised, isolated and controlled outbreaks of the coronavirus, but there have also been concerns at signs of a possible second wave in some European nations.

A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Spain "respects decisions of the United Kingdom" and was in touch with Britain.

Foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya insisted Spain was a "safe country for tourists".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is among those affected by the rule after arriving in Spain on Saturday morning for holiday. He will not be changing his travel plans.

Spanish officials have also warned that the country could be experiencing another bout of Covid-19 after about 8,000 new cases were confirmed in Catalonia over the past fortnight. Belgium, France and Germany also all reported rises in infection numbers this week.

Catalonia, which includes the tourist-loved city of Barcelona, reported 1,493 new coronavirus cases and three deaths on Saturday. The regional government has urged residents of Barcelona to stay at home.

Regional officials have also ordered all discos in Catalonia to shut for the next 15 days, while bars, restaurants and casinos must shut by midnight.

The British Foreign Office also announced it was recommending against all but essential travel to mainland Spain. The Canary and Balearic Islands were not covered by the advice to avoid travel, but travellers will still be subject to the quarantine.

John Blackmore, from Hampshire, told the BBC the new rules meant he had to cancel a trip to Spain because he was concerned his wife’s employer would not allow two more weeks off to quarantine.

"I'm devastated. I have family in Spain who haven't seen their only grandkids since Christmas," he said.

EasyJet and British Airways told customers they did not plan to cancel flights for the coming days, but TUI , Europe's largest tour operator, said it was cancelling all holiday departures scheduled for Sunday.

Spain had been on a list of countries that the British government had called safe for travellers to visit – meaning no quarantine on their return.

On Friday Norway said it would reimpose a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain starting on Saturday. France has advised people not to travel to Catalonia.

British tourists accounted for more than 20 per cent of foreign visitors to Spain last year and tourism normally accounts for about 12 per cent of Spain's economy.

Spain was one of the worst hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, with more than 290,000 cases, and more than 28,000 deaths.

It imposed strict lockdown measures to contain the spread, gradually easing them earlier this summer.

Britain has been the worst hit country in Europe with more than 328,000 cases and an more than 45,600 dead.

Updated: July 26, 2020 05:39 PM

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