'Everyone is panicking': UK quarantine decision shocks Britons in Spain

Requirement to self-isolate on return to Britain will further damage tourism industry

News that the British government had imposed a two-week quarantine on those returning from Spain quickly soured the Saturday night mood in the Brew Rock beach bar in Altea, Alicante – and across the rest of the country.

Lisa Griffin, who runs Brew Rock and an Irish pub in nearby Benidorm, was as poleaxed by the announcement as her customers were.

“They were just in shock,” she said. “At first, a lot of people were saying, ‘This is fake news!’ because of all the social media stuff. They were saying, ‘Oh my God! It can’t be true, it can’t be true!’ And then as it came in from different sources, the reality was hitting home for everyone.”

The need for returning Britons to self-quarantine will further hobble a tourist sector that had already been preparing for a difficult summer in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

“It’s really, really soul-destroying,” said Griffin. “Everybody is up in arms. Everybody cannot believe it.”

She said people and businesses in Spain had overwhelmingly complied with the three-month lockdown, adding the Madrid government had also put in place clear safety measures to protect tourists and locals alike.

Spain went into one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns nine days before the UK, and the wearing of face masks in public places has been compulsory since 21 May.

Coronavirus deaths in Spain – graph

“Now to be hit with this is just unbelievable,” said Griffin. “Honestly, it’s just unbelievable. A lot of businesses have slowly but surely started to open their doors and take their staff off [temporary furloughs] and now to be faced with this is just another knock-back.”

At Brew Rock, which is only open at weekends, signs display the precautionary measures people need to take and staff are rigorous about politely, but firmly, reminding customers of the need for masks and vigilance.

“People are understanding it because the way the Spanish government has done it has been clear,” said Griffin.

“They haven’t said, ‘It’s down to your opinion’, or ‘Do it if you think that’s right’. No. What they’ve said is: ‘That’s what you do.’ And we all try to follow it.”

The timing of the British government’s announcement was also questioned by people at Madrid’s Barajas airport.

“It’s really bad because it’s just come all of a sudden, it’s not given very much time to prepare so everyone is now panicking,” said Emily Harrison, who was gearing up for the self-isolation as she prepared to board a flight to London.

“We had a wedding to go to and we had plans to visit friends and family who we haven’t seen in a very long time and now we are going to have to cancel all those plans, so it’s really quite upsetting,” she told Reuters.

Carolyne Lansell, who was flying to Ibiza from Madrid for a 10-day holiday, said: “We’re quite frustrated by it to be honest, because it actually feels safer in Spain.”

That frustration was shared by many of those arriving back at Gatwick airport on Sunday morning.

Philip Bradby, 55, and Marina Wilson, 40, from Bournemouth, said they had returned from holiday early due to the shutdown of the travel corridor with Spain.

“They basically changed the rules halfway through which puts us in a very awkward position and lots of things to arrange,” Wilson told PA Media.

Bradby added: “I think it’s quite poor that they did it so instantaneously.”

Jill Witte, who was returning with her two daughters and husband, said they were all shocked. “It didn’t look like that was coming, otherwise we wouldn’t have gone,” she said.

Witte told PA that the quarantine rule changes would “massively” inconvenience the family. “The children are on school holidays so now they are not going to be allowed to go out,” she said. “We didn’t get the option to come back before a deadline point or anything – it happened within hours.”


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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