Britons in Spain, or due to travel to Spain, were thrown into chaos on Saturday night when the British government gave mere hours notice that Spain was to be removed from the UK’s travel corridor exemption list from midnight.
The change to the rules means that if passengers arrive in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland from Spain (including islands), they will need to self-isolate for two weeks.
The British government said that “Following a significant change over the last week in both the level and pace of change in confirmed cases, Spain has been removed from the list of countries where people do not have to self-isolate when arriving into to the UK. People currently on holiday in Spain are encouraged to follow the local rules, return home as normal and check the FCO’s travel advice pages on GOV.UK for further information. The FCO is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.”
A government spokesperson told the Costa Blanca People, “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. Both our list of quarantine exemptions and the FCO travel advice are being updated to reflect these latest risk assessments.”
The spokesperson continued, “The government has made consistently clear it will take decisive action if necessary to contain the virus, including if the public health risk of people returning from a particular country and not self-isolating becomes too high.
The devolved administrations have all taken the same decision today, so travellers arriving from Spain into all parts of the UK will need to self-isolate. The government is urging employers to be understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate.”
Reaction in Spain
The news has not been well received by officials in Spain with President of the Valencian Community, Ximo Puig urging the UK to make an exception for the Costa Blanca. On Sunday, Puig asked the British authorities to exempt the Valencian Community and especially the Costa Blanca from the recommendation not to travel to Spain, as well as the imposition of a 14 day quarantine.
Puig said that the regions within the Valencian Community, particularly the Alicante province which receives many British tourists, have a lower incidence of Covid-19 than Great Britain itself. He said, “the decision does not seem to be justified with the objective data currently available.”
The Valencian Government considers the imposition of quarantine in the United Kingdom as a major setback and has expressed enormous concern about the consequences that the decision may have for remainder of the tourist season of the Valencian Community and the Alicante province in particular.
The President announced on Sunday that he was going to reach out to the British Embassy in Spain, and to Ambassador Hugh Elliott, as well as the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism. Ximo Puig had a conversation on Sunday evening with Ambassador Elliot, while the region’s Secretary of Tourism, Francesc Colomer, did the same with the Secretary of State for Tourism, Fernado Valdés, to highlight the situation regarding tourism in the Valencian Community.
Puig also contacted the president of Hosbec, Antoni Mayor, and together they decided on a set of specific steps that the Valencian Government is also going to bring before central Spanish Government, to defend tourism in the Valencian Community.
Ximo Puig was keen to stress that the Valencian Community guarantees safe tourism both by the safety measures imposed by the Generalitat and by the high compliance by citizens of the Valencian Community.
Despite desperate efforts by authorities in Valencia to protect the regional economy from the UK’s decision, it seems that the fallout has already begun with the UK’s biggest tour operator TUI cancelling all flights from the UK to Spain in the wake of the quarantine decision. TUI has cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until 9 August. The firm said all those going to the Balearic and Canary Islands could still travel as planned from Monday. The airline industry has expressed its dismay to the decision to impose the quarantine. Rob Griggs of Airlines UK said the decision was a “big blow” to the aviation sector. Griggs said that individuals should be tested for coronavirus on arrival instead of automatically having to self-isolate.
News emerged on Monday that the Spanish Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is negotiating with the United Kingdom to exclude the Balearic and Canary islands from quarantine to “save tourism” – a matter that Benidorm tourism officials consider “a flagrant discrimination of some tourist areas over others by the Spanish state itself”.
A plenary session due to be held on Monday as the Costa Blanca People was going to press was expected to see a joint motion by local parties urging government to “urgently take all the necessary steps to make Alicante-Elche airport part of that network of safe corridors.”
The motion to be presented by local government officials highlights that British tourism is “essential for the recovery of activity in our territory. It represents 40% of the total market and with unquestionable levels of loyalty to Benidorm, the Costa Blanca and the Valencian Community.”