Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said the government will not apologise for its sudden decision to make British holiday makers enter 14 days quarantine on their return from Spain.
Labour called last night’s (Saturday) snap announcement “shambolic” with British holiday makers left “confused and distressed” by the decision to take Spain off the Covid-19 safe-list of countries.
Raab defended the move – which came into force at midnight – and said the government had to take “swift, decisive action” to protect the UK from “potentially a second wave here and then another lockdown” after data was received and analysed on Friday showing a surge in infections in Spain.
“We took the decision as swiftly as we could,” the foreign secretary told today’s Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday.
“And we can’t make apologies for doing so. We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised [surges], or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action.”
Raab warned there is “no guarantee” other countries will not be removed from “safe list” and added: “There is an element of uncertainty this summer as people go abroad.”
Transport secretary will have to quarantine for 14 days
The new restrictions mean that at least two ministers – including transport secretary Grant Shapps whose department imposed the ‘air-bridges’ scheme and advised on which countries are safe to travel to; and minister for London Paul Scully – will have to quarantine for 14 days when they return from their Spanish holidays.
However, the wider consequences of the government’s “swift, decisive action” on the travel and tourism sector and for employers and employees who now must isolate for a fortnight have caused consternation.
While Raab told Ridge that employers should show flexibility for employees returning from Spanish holidays and now needing two more weeks off work, industry has appealed for a less draconian approach enabled by testing and regional air corridors.
TUI cancels Spanish holidays to UK’s most popular destination
Airlines UK’s Rob Griggs said the decision was a “big-blow’ to a sector already hit hard by the virus, and he told BBC Breakfast this morning: “We back the idea of voluntary testing on arrival or before you leave, we think testing would enable perhaps countries where quarantine would still apply as a whole to enable individuals to come back without the need for quarantine if they test.”
Travel Weekly report that the UK’s biggest tour operator TUI has cancelled all-flights to Spain from Sunday and confirmed it has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain until August 9. Abta said Spain is the most popular destination for British visitors “attracting over 18 million” each year.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth slammed the speed of the government’s decision – which came into effect six hours after the announcement – for leaving holiday-makers “confused and distressed” about whether to continue with their break.
“I understand why they’ve made the decision but, of course, the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” Ashworth told the BBC “There are people about to go on holiday to Spain and the islands like Tenerife who are confused, and they don’t know whether their employers will allow them to take two weeks’ quarantine – the government is just saying, ‘We hope that employers cooperate.’ Well, to be frank, I hope I win the lottery on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen.”
Passengers’ anger and frustration
Passengers arriving on the first flights back from Spain this morning “expressed their anger and frustration at having to go into quarantine”, reports the Independent.
Among those quoted was Sharon who had spent two days in Spain and now must isolate for two-weeks. She said: “When I booked my trip, I checked the government advice and it said that Spain was OK to go to. “An amber warning would have been useful. If I’d known this was going to happen, I would have re-evaluated going on my trip. It’s impacting on the rest of my summer.”
Sharon said she had to travel via Gatwick’s railway station to get home and added: “It seems a little bit ridiculous really: as soon as I get off the train I’ve got to go into self-isolation.”
Spanish quarantine applies to UK wide
The Scottish government was first to confirm the news and said the decision had been agreed by all three devolved administrations and Westminster.
However, many have questioned the blanket applied to Spanish holidays given it covers not just the mainland but also the Balearic and Canary islands with Ben Ross asking in today’s Telegraph: “What kind of tortured logic includes the Spanish islands in the quarantine rules?”
A spokesperson for Abta said: ““We suggest the government considers lifting the quarantine rules for flights to and from certain regions with lower infection rates, or to places such as the Balearic Islands or The Canaries – which are geographically distinct from mainland Spain – to avoid further damage to the UK inbound and outbound tourism industries.”