Coronavirus: 14-day quarantine for North travellers returning from Spain

British transport secretary Grant Shapps flew to Spain on Monday for holiday

UK tourists flying home after a holiday in Spain have reacted angrily to an abrupt decision by their government for mandatory 14 day quarantining on arrival home. Video: Reuters

 

Travellers coming into Northern Ireland from Spain and its islands must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine after the United Kingdom removed Spain from its list of safe countries to travel to.

The move, which came into force at midnight, comes after fears were raised that Spain was experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections.

The decision means those coming back from the popular holiday destination will have to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return to UK after all four administrations – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland– opted to join forces over the move.

The move brings the rules in Northern Ireland in relation to people returning from Spain into line with those in the Republic.

Northern Ireland Minister for Health Robin Swann said the decision to remove Spain from the exempt list was not taken lightly and was prompted by the recent upsurge in cases.

“As of midnight, anyone returning or visiting Northern Ireland from Spain, including its islands will be required to quarantine for 14 days.”

It has been confirmed that the British transport secretary Grant Shapps - whose department announced the rule change - flew to Spain on Saturday morning to start his summer holiday, meaning he will have to quarantine for a fortnight if the travel corridor remains suspended by the end of his trip.

British transport secretary Grant Shapps. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty
British transport secretary Grant Shapps. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty

Essential travel

The UK foreign ministry also announced it was recommending against all but essential travel to mainland Spain. Spain’s Canary and Balearic Islands were not covered by the advice to avoid travel, but would still be subject to the quarantine. In an early response, the Spanish government said it was a safe country and that outbreaks of Covid-19 were localised and controlled.

A UK government spokesman said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data.

“As a result, Spain has been removed from the lists of countries from which passengers arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempted from the need to self-isolate.

“Protecting public health is our absolute priority and 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.”

Employers are being urged by the UK department for transport to be “understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate”.

Doubt

The move is likely to cast doubt on holiday plans for thousands of UK citizens as they weigh up the risk of travelling to Spain and the need to stay home for two weeks upon arriving back in Britain.

Spain has reported more than 900 new daily infections for the last two days as authorities warn the country that lost 28,000 lives before getting its outbreak under control could be facing the start of a second wave.

The government of Catalonia has also said nightclubs and late-night bars are to shut for the next two weeks following the spike in infections.

The UK government said people should continue to check the foreign and commonwealth office’s travel advice and their insurance policies before embarking on any overseas travel.

Travellers, even those from exempt destinations, are still required to complete a passenger locator form when they arrive in the UK.

The Airport Operators Association said the new measures will damage the “fragile restart of the aviation sector which continues to face the biggest challenge in its history”.

Travellers in transit through Terminal 2 of the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport in El Prat de Llobregat, northeastern Spain, on Friday. Photograph: EPA
Travellers in transit through Terminal 2 of the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport in El Prat de Llobregat, northeastern Spain, on Friday. Photograph: EPA

‘Disastrous’

Consumer rights and travel groups have criticised the UK government after it moved suddenly to re-impose the restrictions on those returning from Spain.

Questions have been asked about why the so-called “travel corridor” with the UK’s most popular holiday destination was suspended with little notice, with the sudden turn of events catching out even transport secretary Grant Shapps, who is currently in Spain for his summer break.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Shapps, whose department formally announced the rule change, had to dial in from Spain to discuss altering the guidance with health secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

London-based World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said the decision to remove Spain from the travel corridor exemption list was “disastrous” for the travel and tourism industry, both in Spain and the UK.

Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and chief executive, said: “While the health and safety of travellers - as well as those who work within the travel and tourism industry - is paramount, this move will be a bitter blow for those holidaymakers already in Spain who will now be forced into isolation when they return home.

Rory Boland, editor of consumer rights magazine Which? Travel, said: “Many holidaymakers will be deeply angry that the Government didn’t make this decision 48 hours ago, before tens of thousands of them flew off for their summer holidays in Spain.

“Many would not have travelled if they had known they’d face 14 days of quarantine on their return.”

Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operator, said it had cancelled all flights due to depart to mainland Spain and the Canary Islands on Sunday.

Managing director Andrew Flintham confirmed the company would contact customers to arrange refunds or rebookings, but added: “We’re incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get more notice of this announcement, or that this decision wasn’t made yesterday, as many Brits travel on holiday at the weekend.”

But Government sources said the “fast moving picture” regarding Spain’s coronavirus cases meant ministers had to act “immediately”.

Tourists stand in two long queues to check in before departing to London at Tenerife Sur International Airport, in Granadilla de Abona, Tenerife Island on Sunday. Photograph: Ramon de la Rocha/EPA
Tourists stand in two long queues to check in before departing to London at Tenerife Sur International Airport, in Granadilla de Abona, Tenerife Island on Sunday. Photograph: Ramon de la Rocha/EPA

Unsure

The reintroduction of quarantine measures will apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Mallorca and Ibiza, the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed.

Employers are being urged by the DfT to be “understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate” following the sudden advice change.

Neil Hunter (45) from Sittingbourne in Kent, booked a 10-day break to Lanzarote last December.

Due to leave on Tuesday, he told the PA news agency: “We were going as a family, my wife Amanda, and teenage daughter Bethany but to be honest, since this announcement, I’m unsure what’s going to happen as I work as a train driver, and I don’t think my employer will accept me having to isolate due to going on holiday.”

Authorities in Spain warned the country that lost 28,000 lives before getting its outbreak under control could be facing the start of a second major outbreak.

On Thursday, the Spanish health ministry reported 971 new daily infections, the biggest daily increase since Spain’s lockdown ended.

Catalonia became the latest region to crack down on nightlife, trying to halt new infection clusters.

The wealthy north-east region - home to Barcelona - ordered all nightclubs to close for 15 days and put a midnight curfew on bars in the greater Barcelona area and other towns around Lleida that have become contagion hot zones.

The quarantine imposition came as PHE, which was involved in the Spain decision, found itself under-fire from senior Tories for its failure to own up to leadership mistakes during the handling of the pandemic, according to a Sunday Telegraph report.

The paper claimed the UK government was considering a “radical overhaul” of the health body after chief executive Duncan Selbie, during an appearance in front of PHE’s advisory board last week, was said to have defended the decision to stop contact tracing during the Covid-19 peak. - PA

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