Government accused of creating ‘sense of panic’ with sudden change to Spain travel advice

Dominic Raab says ministers will make ‘no apologies’ for reimposing quarantine measures

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 27 July 2020 00:17 BST
Dominic Raab warns of summer of travel 'uncertainty' due to coronavirus

Ministers have been accused of creating a sense of “panic and loss of control” due to the sudden decision to scrap an air bridge agreement with Spain and reimpose stringent quarantine measures.

Hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers now face a mandatory 14-day self-isolation after the UK government removed the European country from its safe flight list with just a few hours’ notice on Saturday evening – while many more have had trips to Spain thrown into disarray.

The travel industry – set to lose millions in revenue – reacted with fury at the unexpected move and questioned the rationale behind the decision to impose the strict quarantine measures on all regions of Spain, including the Balearics and the Canary Islands.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, insisted the government would make “no apologies” for the decision to reimpose the mandatory quarantine for those entering the UK from Spain.

He also said the government could not “guarantee” other countries currently on the safe flight list would be removed if they experience a spike in coronavirus transmission rates, and admitted British tourists will face “uncertainty” if they planned to travel abroad this summer.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Raab said data had showed a “big jump” in coronavirus infections across mainland Spain. “That was assessed yesterday afternoon and we took the decision as swiftly as we could,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

“We can’t make apologies for doing so,” he added. “We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised, or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action. Otherwise, we risk re-infection into the UK, potentially a second wave here and then another lockdown.”

However, Spain’s foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez told reporters on Sunday her government had entered into “dialogue” with the UK to exclude the Balearic and the Canary Islands from the strict quarantine measures and hoped talks “will bear fruit shortly”.

Ms Gonzalez argued: “Like any other European country we are seeing outbreaks – the outbreaks in Spain are perfectly controlled. Spain is a safe country for tourists and Spaniards.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, also called on the government to ramp up the Covid-19 track, trace and isolate system “so as to avoid the need for the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine”.

“The government’s policy regarding travel restrictions has lacked grip and coherence from the outset,” he added. “The latest decision-making process regarding Spain and the short notice for travellers has created a sense of panic and loss of control.

“The government should have proper contingency plans to support people coming home where there is no guarantee their employers will allow them 14 days of work flexibility.”

Dr Daniel Lopez-Acuna, a Spanish epidemiologist, questioned the UK government’s sudden decision to reimpose the strict quarantine measures. “In my perspective it’s unjustified epidemiologically,” he told the BBC’s The World This Weekend. “It’s being unfair, it’s being unnecessary. I don’t think it’s been the most appropriate thing.”

He said: “Actually 14 regions in Spain have an infection rate that is lower than the average infection rate in the UK. The problem – the spike, the increased number of cases – it’s concentrated exclusively in three regions: Catalonia, Aragon and Navarre where there have been outbreaks that have gone into community transmission which have required some more of the drastic measures of confinement or limited mobility, or mitigation strategy for reducing community transmission.”

The decision to scrap the air bridge agreement with Spain even caught out two government ministers who have travelled to the country for a summer break as parliament entered a six-week recess. Both transport secretary Grant Shapps and Paul Scully, the minister for London, will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days when they return to the UK.

On Sunday, Mr Shapps posted on social media: “Following the unexpectedly rapid rise in Spain’s coronavirus cases, I held a video call with UK airlines + our ambassador Hugh Elliott today in order to ensure close coordination to help UK nationals return from Spain. We will need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.”

Evidently surprised by the sudden change in policy, Mr Scully posted on his Instagram from Lanzarote, sharing a screenshot of the news with the caption “it’s worth it” and an eye-roll emoji. He later added: “Best turn to gin. I’ll still be at work. Just no shopping or running I guess.”

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