British Decision to Quarantine Travelers From Spain Causes Anger, Worry

MADRID/LONDON (Reuters) -
British Airways flight BA3288 prepares to take off as London City Airport restarts commercial flights following lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, June 21. (Reuters/Henry Nicholls/File Photo)

British tourists flying home on Sunday from holidays in Spain reacted angrily to the U.K. government’s abrupt decision to impose a two-week coronavirus quarantine on everyone traveling from there.

The move to take Spain off a safe-travel list was announced late on Saturday and took effect from midnight, leaving travelers with no time to dodge it or plan ahead.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s government was slammed for its handling of the measure, taken as Spain sees a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I can understand why the government have made this decision … but of course the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” said the Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking to Sky News.

Spain had been on a list of countries that the British government had said were safe for travelers 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 worst-hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, with more than 290,000 cases and over 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 reimpose a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain, while France advised people not to travel to Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia.

But a collapse of tourism from Britain would have far more of an impact on Spain’s economy.

Britons made up more than 20% of foreign visitors to Spain last year, the largest group by nationality, a key source of income for a country that depends on tourism for about 12% of its economy.

Spain’s central bank has said the economy could shrink by 11.6% in 2020, without ruling out an even sharper contraction of 15.1% in case of a new wave of coronavirus.

“This decision is an absolute disaster for the recovery, there’s no other way to see this,” Angel Tavares, head of European Economics at Oxford Economics consulting, said, referring to the quarantine ruling.

Antonio Perez, the mayor of Benidorm, a resort on Spain’s Costa Blanca that is hugely dependent on British tourists, said it was a “tough blow.”

In addition to the quarantine, the British Foreign Ministry advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.

Regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands, which are popular holiday destinations, said they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people traveling back from the archipelagos.