Why have travellers from Spain been ordered to quarantine on entry into the UK?
Since Spain emerged from lockdown on 21 June, coronavirus cases in the country have surged. The health ministry logged nearly 1,000 new infections a day at the end of last week. The steep rise in cases prompted the UK government to remove Spain from the travel corridor list on Saturday evening, meaning travellers returning to the UK must now self-isolate for 14 days.
The government’s caution is backed up by genetic analysis of coronavirus circulating in the UK. One reason scientists advising ministers failed to appreciate the extent of Britain’s epidemic back in March was that thousands of cases arrived unnoticed from Europe, with more than a third coming from Spain, home to one of the continent’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks.
What are holidaymakers meant to do?
People who have already travelled to Spain, such as the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and the minister for London, Paul Scully, are being told they can continue with their holidays, where they should follow local rules to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But given the rise in cases, they will have to quarantine for a fortnight when they return, whether they are coming from mainland Spain, the Canary islands or the Balearic islands.
What about those who are due to travel soon?
The sudden restrictions will throw summer holiday plans into chaos for many British travellers. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office now advises against all non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands.
The UK’s travel association, Abta, is advising customers who are due to travel to Spain imminently to contact their travel provider. Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operator, cancelled all flights to mainland Spain and the Canary Islands on Sunday. The company will be contacting customers to arrange refunds and rebookings.
A spokesperson for easyJet said the airline planned to operate flights as normal in the coming days, adding that customers who no longer wished to travel could transfer their flights free of charge or receive a voucher. “Should any flights be cancelled for later in August, customers will be notified and informed of their options, which include transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or applying for a refund,” they said.
Why have cases surged in Spain?
A week ago, Spanish health officials reported that the rate of new infections had tripled in just over two weeks. The surge is being blamed on multiple factors: a rush out of lockdown, opening the borders, patchy compliance with physical distancing, and inadequate contact tracing. Outbreaks have emerged in bars and clubs, while other clusters have been traced to seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, who often live and work in poor, cramped conditions that make distancing difficult.
Most coronavirus testing in Spain is performed in hospitals, and since mid-June all close contacts of those who are infected with the virus have been tested whether or not they show symptoms. In the seven days to Friday, 10 people in Spain had died from Covid-19, the health ministry said.
The latest figures show that Spain has logged 272,421 cases in total and has reported 28,432 deaths, though an investigation by El País published on Sunday suggested the actual death toll could be nearly 60% higher, if regional statistics for all suspected and confirmed fatalities from the virus were counted. The official toll includes people who were formally diagnosed with coronavirus, not suspected cases who were never tested.
Britain, with a population roughly 50% larger, has reported 300,270 infections and 45,823 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 tracker.
María José Sierra, the deputy head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, has said the country could be experiencing a “second wave” of Covid-19 infections, but has insisted that the flurry of small outbreaks is being traced and isolated. According to the Spanish health authorities, there have been 369 small outbreaks of Covid-19 since the state of emergency ended on 21 June. Of those, 281 remain active and involve a total of 3,200 cases. To date, the north-eastern regions of Catalonia and Aragón have been hardest hit by the resurgence of the virus.
Earlier this week, the government of the south-eastern region of Murcia ordered the 32,000 inhabitants of Totana back into the second phase of lockdown reduction after 55 cases were traced to a bar in the town. On Friday, the Catalan government ordered all nightclubs to close for a fortnight and imposed a midnight curfew on bars in and around Barcelona and Lleida, both of which have had a rise in new cases.