MADRID/LONDON (Reuters) – Spain is safe for tourists and Spaniards, the government insisted on Sunday after Britain abruptly imposed a two-week coronavirus quarantine on travelers returning from there, a decision that filled holidaymakers with dismay.
The Madrid government is also trying to persuade Britain to exclude the Balearic and Canary islands from the quarantine measure, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said.
She added that the prevalence of the virus in those destinations was much lower than in the United Kingdom.
“Spain is safe, it is safe for Spaniards, it is safe for tourists,” Gonzalez Laya told reporters.
Last year, Britons made up more than a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies on heavily on tourism revenues.
The quarantine, coming just as the Spanish tourism sector emerges from months of lockdowns and travel restrictions, upset the plans of many people either on holiday or planning to take one and caused more disruption for airlines and tour companies.
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“It ruins plans for everybody,” Emily Harrison, from Essex, as she prepared to fly back home from Madrid’s Barajas airport and faced two weeks of self-isolation. “Everyone is now panicking.”
Foreign minister Dominic Raab called the measure a “real-time response” to a jump in coronavirus cases in Spain.
“We can’t make apologies…we must be able to take swift, decisive action,” he said on Sky News.
The government announced it was taking Spain off a safe-travel list late on Saturday and the move took effect just hours later, leaving travelers with no time to dodge it or plan ahead.
It also advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, leaving the islands out of the advice but including them in the quarantine measure.
The opposition Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government for its “frankly shambolic” handling of the measure.
TUI(TUIGn.DE), Europe’s biggest holiday company, said it would cancel all holidays to mainland Spain up to Aug. 9, while maintaining flights to the Balearic and Canary islands.
Spain has seen COVID-19 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.
Most new cases have been concentrated in the northeastern region of Catalonia and neighboring regions, so a lot of the criticism focused on the fact that the quarantine also applies to other areas, which have been spared the brunt of the pandemic.
“This is ridiculous. There are almost no cases here and there’s a far higher chance of contracting it when I get back to Britain,” said John Snelling, 50, from Stratford-upon-Avon, who was on holiday in Menorca.
Britain has been the hardest hit country in Europe by the pandemic. Spain was also badly affected, with more than 290,000 cases and over 28,000 deaths. It imposed very strict lockdown measures, gradually easing them earlier in the summer.
Norway last week reimposed a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain, while France advised people not to travel to Catalonia.
But a collapse of tourism from Britain would have far more of an impact on the economy in Spain, where tourism accounts for 12% of GDP. Britons made up the largest group by nationality of foreign visitors.
“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 on Twitter, referring to the quarantine measure.
Antonio Perez, mayor of the Mediterranean resort of Benidorm that is hugely dependent on British tourists, said it was a “tough blow”.
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