Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Tuesday of a “second wave” in Europe of the coronavirus as he defended a controversial decision to quarantine all travellers arriving from Spain, despite criticism from Madrid.
Johnson insisted the UK had taken “swift and decisive” action at the weekend to impose a 14-day quarantine on everyone entering Britain from Spain — a major tourist destination for Britons.
Britain enforces 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from Spain
The move was subsequently criticised by both the Spanish government and in the UK.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called the decision “unbalanced” and insisted parts of his country were safer from the virus than areas of Britain.
But Johnson, on a visit to the English midlands, said it was the correct move.
Travel advice for #Spain has been further updated. The FCO now advises against all non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands. You will have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival into the UK. Find out more: https://t.co/Pk5gBRIn2w pic.twitter.com/7Jo6dRtIAM— FCO travel advice (@FCOtravel) July 27, 2020
“What we have to do is take swift and decisive action where we think that the risks are starting to bubble up again,” he said in Nottingham.
“Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.”
However the premier did appear to indicate the quarantine period could be relaxed. Asked if it might be imposed for 10 rather than 14 days, Johnson said the UK was looking at ways “we can mitigate the impact”.
Britain imposed the measure following a recent surge of cases in Spain.
Norway has imposed similar conditions and French Prime Minister Jean Castex has “strongly recommended” that people avoid going to northeastern Spain, the worst-hit area.
Germany has expressed “great concern” at the virus spike.
Spain’s hopes for reviving tourism trampled
As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Spain was hoping to salvage the summer by billing itself as a safe haven from the pandemic but with infections surging, all bets are off.
Britain’s decision late Saturday to impose quarantine on all travellers coming from Spain represents a huge setback — British tourists are the largest national group of visitors, with 18 million of them taking a Spanish holiday in 2019.
“It’s a very tough blow” given that the tourist sector “had hoped to be able to turn things around in August,” Ximo Puig, the Valencian regional president told Cadena Ser radio.
For some resorts like Benidorm, British tourists constitute 40 percent of visitors.
The announcement was terrible news for the embattled sector, which had hoped the summer months would help it claw back some of the colossal losses incurred through months of lockdown.
“We’d had a good feeling about the coming weeks with reservations picking up and although we were far from the norm for this time of year, we were hoping things would get back to normal by September or October,” the HOSBEC regional hotels association said.
“There have already been cancellations and more are expected. Nobody is going to come here for a week’s holiday and then spend 14 days shut away when they get back home,” said Emilio Gallego, secretary general of Spain’s hotels association.
The Exceltur tourism association estimates Britain’s quarantine move could cost up to 8.7 billion euros in August and September, a major hit to a sector whose turnover had already been expected to halve this year.
Madrid has sought to secure an exemption for the Canary Islands or the Balearic Isles.
“I don’t think that we have uncontrolled transmission of the virus in Spain right now,” said Fernando Simon, the health ministry’s emergencies director, indicating there were areas “where it is hardly circulating” such as the Balearic and Canary Islands.
Spain had approximately 10 deaths in the last 7 days. The UK had about 450 deaths in the last 7 days. I'm surprised Spain is not putting UK citizens in quarantine.https://t.co/beDlhUeA5i— bruce macfarlane (@beajayemac) July 26, 2020
From a health perspective, the quarantine “benefits us in a certain way because it discourages people from travelling from the United Kingdom” where the virus is also still circulating, he said.
‘Badly handled’ decision gets criticized
Sanchez defended Spanish tourist hotspots, including the Balearic and Canary islands, Andalucia and the Valencia region, saying they had “a cumulative incidence of the virus that is lower than that currently in the United Kingdom.
“That is to say, in epidemiological terms, it might even be safer at these destinations than in the United Kingdom,” Sanchez told the Telecinco channel in an interview on Monday.
He added that Madrid was in talks with London “to try to convince them to reconsider the measure, which in our opinion is unbalanced”.
In Britain, the decision has also come under pressure from the opposition Labour party, which claimed Johnson’s government had “badly handled” it.
Labour called for help for British tourists hurriedly returning to the UK over fears that the new rules could affect their jobs.
London had initially said people could still travel to the Canaries and Balearics, but later extended the quarantine to these island groups.
The move is potentially perilous for the Spanish tourist industry, which received 18 million visitors from the UK last year, the largest number from a foreign country.
Spain’s tourist industry accounts for 12 percent of gross domestic product and 13 percent of employment.
Britain and Spain are among the European countries worst hit by the pandemic.
Official figures show there have been almost 46,000 deaths and 300,000 people infected in the UK, though the actual numbers may be far higher.
In Spain, more than 28,400 lives have been lost and more than 272,000 people infected.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk