UK government re-imposes quarantine order for returnees from Spain

UK / Spain: The UK Department for Transport [DfT] announced on Saturday that all travellers returning from Spain to the UK would be required to self-isolate in quarantine at home for the following two weeks, a notion which took immediate effect as of midnight on Sunday morning.

Likewise, the Foreign Office is advising all Brits to avoid all “non-essential travel” to mainland Spain, the Canary and Balearic Islands [including tourist hotspots such as Ibiza and Majorca], due to spikes in coronavirus infection rates in regions such as Aragon, Navarra and Catalonia, and poses an “unacceptably high risk for British travellers”.

Several hundred thousand holidaymakers from Britain already in Spain will be affected by the new restrictions, as will a further estimated three million people who had booked holidays in the popular travel destination over the next month alone.

The move is unquestionably a devastating blow to the travel industry which has already been severely impacted by this crisis, particularly in terms of accommodation providers, holiday operators and airlines whose operations have either been heavily limited or cancelled outright during the pandemic thus far.

Anyone returning to the UK from the aforementioned destinations will now be asked to provide an address where they will be self-isolating for the next 14 days. Failure to abide by the strict quarantine rules could result in a fine of up to £1,000 for those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while those returning to Scotland face fines of between £480 or £5,000 depending on whether people commit single or repeat offences.

For that fortnight, returnees to British shores must not go out to work, school, public areas or visitors for essential support in their homes. They should also not go out unless to buy food if no-one else can do it for them, to receive medical assistance, to go to court or attend a funeral.

On Thursday, Spain recorded its largest daily increase in cases since its lockdown was eased earlier this summer – 971 new infections – and reported a further 922 cases on Friday.

The UK government previously imposed a blanket quarantine order for incoming visitors travelling by air, sea or rail on 8 June, before it announced this would be lifted for more than 50 countries, including Spain, earlier this month on 10 July.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab defended the abrupt enforcement of the quarantine measures, which came into effect barely six hours after they were confirmed by the government.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that the government had taken the decision “as swiftly as we could” to avoid a second wave of infections emerging in the UK, as well as further lockdown measures to slow down the potential spread.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, voiced his criticism of the move to the BBC, labelling the handling of the decision “shambolic” and saying the government had “scrambled around to confirm” the news on Saturday after news broke earlier in the day.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha González Lay poured scorn on the government’s abrupt actions, stating that the outbreaks had been “perfectly controlled” and were to be expected as restrictions began to be eased.

Ms González said the Balearic and Canary Islands were “very safe territories” and had not reported new surges in cases, therefore they should be left of the UK government’s essential quarantine list.

Over the past fortnight, the Balearic Islands have recorded 92 new positive Covid-19 cases, compared with 8,500 infections in Catalonia in the same time period.

In response to Saturday’s announcement, the UK’s largest tour operator, Tui, cancelled all holidays in mainland Spain until 9 August at the earliest, while national airline British Airways is still operating flights but criticised the move as “yet another blow” to British holidaymakers.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps will be one of those affected after he flew out to Spain on holiday on the same day as the restrictions were imposed.

Data from John Hopkins University, which has been tracking cases and deaths since the pandemic began, shows that Spain has recorded 272,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 28,400 deaths, making it one of the countries to be worst affected by the coronavirus in Europe. The news that those cases have tripled over the last fortnight was of significant concern to the UK government that it felt the new quarantine measures were necessary.

As of 25 July, Spain’s rate of cases per 100,000 people was at 39.4 over a cumulative 14-day period, according to the European Union’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [ECDC]. That placed it narrowly behind Sweden and ahead of Portugal, whose own fears of a second spike have resurfaced in recent weeks, but significantly behind the likes of Romania, Bulgaria and Luxembourg with the highest infection rates.

With news of quarantine being re-introduced for British holidaymakers returning to the UK from Spain percolating around Europe, it appears that there is a very real possibility that other countries will soon follow suit, with the likes of Germany, France and Belgium also reporting sharp rises in infection rates following the easing of mobility restrictions.

Travel writer and broadcaster, Simon Calder, reassured British holidaymakers already in Spain that those with travel insurance would still have their policies intact, but for anyone ignoring Foreign Office advice to visit the mainland date for the foreseeable future will have their policies immediately invalidated. However, it is important to note that British tourists in Spain are not currently being advised to leave the country.

Key questions include:

What should travellers do if they are already in Spain?

Holidaymakers are being advised to continue with their holiday, follow all local rules and return home as planned, taking into account the regular updates from the Foreign Office [FCO].

What should holidaymakers do if they have a trip to Spain booked? 

Anyone who has a holiday booked in Spain is being asked to immediately contact their travel provider as some holiday operators including Tui have already cancelled package holidays in mainland Spain for the next two weeks.

What happens to travel insurance policies? 

The Association of British Insurers has said it is “likely” that insurance will stay in place for those already in Spain until they return home, but people travelling against Foreign Office advice to mainland Spain from now on will see their policies invalidated.

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