Story updated on Sunday, July 26 to include latest Tui statement
Spain has been removed from the UK government’s ‘safe list’ of countries that do not require travellers to quarantine for 14 days on their return.
The reimposed quarantine measures will apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.
The government confirmed: “People returning to the UK from Spain (including islands) from midnight tonight (25 July 2020) will need to self-isolate for two weeks, with the country removed from the travel corridors list.”
A government spokesperson said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data.
“As a result, Spain has been removed from the lists of countries from which passengers arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempted from the need to self-isolate.
“Protecting public health is our absolute priority and we have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK.
“We’ve always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary. Both our list of quarantine exemptions and the FCO travel advice are being updated to reflect these latest risk assessments.”
The Foreign Office updated its guidance on Saturday evening, although its advice against all but essential travel currently relates only to mainland Spain and not the Canary Islands or Balearic Islands.
It added: “The FCO is not advising those already travelling in Spain to leave at this time.
“Travellers should follow the advice of the local authorities on how best to protect themselves and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus.
“If you are returning from Spain after 25 July you will be required to quarantine on your return to the UK, but the FCO is not advising you to cut short your visit. You should contact your tour operator or airline if you have any questions about your return journey.”
A statement from the Scottish government said: “Spain will be removed from the list of countries exempt from quarantine requirements due to an increased number of cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the last few days.
“The decision, also made by the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales as well as the UK government, has been made to reduce the risk of the transmission of the virus by those travelling from Spain and arriving in Scotland.”
The move follows a number of coronavirus outbreaks and local lockdowns in Spain, and fears that it may be facing a second wave of the virus.
Spain was one of the countries included on the government’s original ‘safe list’ published on July 3, and was also added to the Scottish equivalent having initially been omitted.
The UK government’s list was subsequently extended with the addition of five countries on Friday. However, the government has always been clear that it would remove countries if risks were deemed to have increased, as was the case with Serbia.
This week, industry sources told Travel Weekly that things could “go backwards”, with one warning: “The government won’t hesitate to pull it all back if we get an outbreak. At any moment, a market could be cut off.”
Scottish justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The decision to exempt Spain earlier this week was taken when the data showed there was an improvement in the spread of the virus. But clearly the latest data has given us cause for concern to overturn that decision.
“We appreciate that this will be disappointing. However, we have always been clear we are closely monitoring the pandemic situation in all countries and that we may require to remove a country from the list of places exempt from quarantine requirements should the virus show a resurgence.”
Tui confirmed it would cancel its flights to Spain on Sunday, but questioned both the timing of the announcement and the fact it covered the Canaries and Balearics despite them not being included in the FCO advice.
On Sunday, it confirmed it had cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain until August 9, though those who wish to travel to the Canaries and Balearics and accommodate quarantine restrictions on their return can still do so from Monday.
UK & Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham said: “Customers due to travel to all areas of Spain between 27th July and Sunday 9th August will be able to cancel or amend holidays and will be able to receive a full refund or the option to rebook their holiday with a booking incentive.
“We will proactively contact all these customers. Customers with holidays from 10th August will be updated on Friday 31st July. All customers currently on holiday can continue to enjoy their holiday and will return on their intended flight home.”
Speaking immediately after the announcement on Saturday, Flintham said: “We’re incredibly disappointed that we didn’t get more notice of this announcement, or that this decision wasn’t made yesterday, as many Brits travel on holiday at the weekend.
“We also look to understand why quarantine has been issued for a whole country, including the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands, when the travel advice isn’t aligned (only applying to mainland Spain). It demonstrates why clear regional travel corridors need to be considered.”
Flintham added: “The health and safety of our customers and colleagues is always our highest priority and we welcome travel advice that protects those that holiday with us.
“However, the UK government must work closely with the travel industry as this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”
Joanne Dooey, president of the SPAA, said: “Tonight’s news is understandable, but devastating. This means that passengers whose Spanish flights are due to land in Scotland after midnight will have to self isolate on their arrival, and they may not learn this until they land. Safety has always been foremost in our thoughts, but this is yet more bad news for the beleaguered travel industry.
“Travel agents have faced a torrid time since lockdown and whilst bookings are steady for 2021, the sector has been massively affected. Agents have worked tirelessly to rebook holidays for their clients. Tonight’s news means that they will be rebooking their clients now for a second or third time.”
Kelly Cookes, leisure director at Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “This is devastating news for the travel industry and our travel agent members. Spain had been dominating in terms of bookings and just as there was a glimmer of hope to try and recover some of the summer season, the change in government advice will have huge ramifications on consumer confidence when it comes to booking travel elsewhere.
“The health and safety of travellers is paramount, however this will put many travel agents back at square one in terms of the refund process and I’m sure will impact revenue for travel businesses who were starting to get back on their feet.”
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, said: “It is devastating news and we hope that Spain can get on top of the spike as quickly as possible. It is disappointing that quarantine is the only measure we have to address spikes.
“Testing when customers return through the airport, tracking and tracing could reduce the need for blanket quarantine measures.”
The Airport Operators Association said the decision will “further damage what is already a fragile restart of the aviation sector which continues to face the biggest challenge in its history”.
Paul Charles, owner of the PC Agency and one of the driving forces behind the Quash Quarantine movement that campaigned against blanket restrictions introduced in June, said: “The timing couldn’t be worse. This is peak period for British travellers to Spain. It’s going to sow enormous anxiety for both those in Spain currently, and those about to depart.
“And it will put terrible pressure on many UK airlines and tour operators who will have to deal with thousands of enquiries about refunds and postponements at a time when these companies are already under incredible pressure.”
Kane Pirie, founder of VIVID Travel, criticised the decision. He said: “It is quite right the that government keeps all measures under review but to change the quarantine requirements at point blank notice is extreme, and not warranted by the developments in Spain.
“There needs to be more balance between the health and economic risks. Outbound tourism is impossible in this environment with an overload of complicated and unstable restrictions. It has become a minefield. Seven months into the crisis we should be moving beyond these blunt instruments.”
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “Many holidaymakers will be deeply angry that the government didn’t make this decision 48 hours ago, before tens of thousands of them flew off for their summer holidays in Spain. Many would not have travelled if they had known they’d face 14 days of quarantine on their return.”
On Friday, Spain’s foreign minister Arancha González Laya told CNN that Spain was one of the countries with “most controls and mechanisms for identifying outbreaks”.
She added: “As long as we don’t have a vaccine or a treatment, this is what the new normality will be like. We ask citizens to comply with the restrictions and behave in a responsible manner.”