'No apologies' for Spain travel rule trade

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People sit on stairs in Barcelona

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Getty Images

The foreign secretary has defended the “swift decision” to require travellers arriving in the UK from Spain to quarantine for 14 days.

Dominic Raab said he knows it will cause disruption for holidaymakers but the government “can’t make apologies”.

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'No apologies' for Spain travel rule change

About apologies'

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth called the handling of the move “shambolic”.

The new coronavirus travel rule was announced on Saturday following a spike in the number of new cases in Spain this week.

'No apologies' for Spain travel rule change

Mr Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge the government “took the decision as swiftly as we could” – receiving data on Friday and assessing it on Saturday afternoon.

Asked why holidaymakers were not told earlier that Spain was under assessment, he said giving “vague advice” would “create more uncertainty”.

“There is a cut-off with changes in rules and advice we give, so I appreciate that that’s difficult and it can be disruptive,” he said.

“But it would be far worse to either muddy the waters or to hold back and delay from taking the measures when we need to take them.”

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He said the UK could risk seeing a “second wave” and lockdown if such measures were not taken.

Among those affected by the new rules is Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who began his holiday in Spain on Saturday. He is expected to continue his trip as planned and isolate in line with guidance on his return.

Airlines including British Airways have criticised the new measures as “yet another blow” to British holidaymakers.


‘Disappointed’

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Lois Stothard

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Lois Stothard had planned a surprise trip for boyfriend James Allott but has had to cancel

Lois Stothard, from South Yorkshire, told the BBC she had booked a holiday to Seville as a surprise for her boyfriend’s 30th birthday but now feels that she cannot travel. They were due to fly out on Sunday morning.

“I’m a key worker – I’m a teacher – and my boyfriend has work commitments so we cannot quarantine for 14 days when we return,” she said.

“We can’t get any money back and to change [the booking] the company want double what I’ve already paid in fees. I’m very disappointed and upset as we’re packed and ready to go.”

John Blackmore, from Hampshire, was also due to fly out to his family in Spain with his wife and two young children. But the new rules mean he has had to cancel, for fears his wife’s employer would not be able to accommodate her taking an extra two weeks off to quarantine on their return.

He said he thought it was unlikely they would get a refund for the flight, as it has not been cancelled.

“I’m devastated,” he told the BBC. “I have family in Spain who haven’t seen their only grandkids since Christmas.”

Read more reactions from holidaymakers here.


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AFP

Spain was included on the government’s reviewed list of “safe” travel destinations for travellers in England published on Friday morning.

The Spanish health ministry reported 971 new daily infections on Thursday – the biggest daily increase since Spain’s lockdown ended – and 922 on Friday.

Mr Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, told the BBC the move was understandable, but the government could have announced it on Friday because the “data didn’t dramatically change”.

He said the communication was “shambolic” and the government “scrambled around to confirm” the news on Saturday after it was broken by the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman on Twitter.

Mr Ashworth urged the government to provide clarity for “distressed” holidaymakers on whether they will “get support to isolate”.

Responding to Mr Raab’s comment that the government expects employers to show employees “the flexibility they need”, Mr Ashworth said: “I hope to win the lottery on Saturday, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, does it?”

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Analysis

By Helen Catt, political correspondent

You know things have happened fast when even the man who’s in charge of the policy has been caught out.

While it’s pretty certain that Grant Shapps’s boss isn’t going to mind him taking another 14 days off, the sudden nature of this “Spanish reimposition” is going to cause big problems for many holidaymakers when they head home.

It highlights the dilemma at the heart of this policy: responding quickly to changes in other countries’ infection rates is vital to limit the spread of the virus, but makes things unpredictable for would-be travellers.

So the big question for the UK government is: what if the necessary flexibility of opening and closing “travel corridors” ends up undermining the confidence they were supposed to create?

And if it does, how does the government respond to an industry that’s already been hit hard?


Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the timing of such a measure will never suit everyone.

“Whenever a decision is made there will always be people who have just left the UK,” he said.

“There is no magic time at which to do this. The thing that we have to do is do it as soon as we are certain about the data.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that the decision was made after reviewing the latest data and “reinforces the point that these matters are subject to change at short notice”.

Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the amended travel rule for Spain “will reduce the risk of the transmission of the virus here in Wales”.

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Reuters

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The measure is likely to cast doubt on thousands of Britons’ holiday plans


What’s happening in Spain?

Spanish officials have warned a second wave of coronavirus could be imminent as major cities have seen cases surge.

Spain has so far seen more than 28,000 coronavirus deaths. On Thursday, it saw the biggest daily increase in infections since its lockdown ended.

Catalonia has become the latest region to crack down on nightlife. The wealthy north-east region, which is home to Barcelona, ordered all nightclubs to close for two weeks and put a midnight curfew on bars in the greater Barcelona area.

The BBC’s Guy Hedgecoe in Madrid says contagion among young people is a particular worry, as they have been gathering in large numbers in cities at night.

France has warned its citizens not to travel to Catalonia while Norway has said it will start quarantining people arriving from Spain.


People currently on holiday in Spain have been advised by the Department of Transport to follow the local rules, return home as normal, and check the Foreign Office’s travel advice website for further information.

The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain. Quarantine measures apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Majorca and Ibiza.

It is unlikely that any travel insurance will be valid where the Foreign Office advice states UK residents should not travel, according to BBC personal finance reporter Kevin Peachey.

Quarantine measures for UK travellers were first introduced in early June. But after pressure from the aviation and travel industries, the government and devolved administrations published lists of countries exempt from the rules.

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