Spain has said it is in talks over the potential removal of quarantine restrictions for travellers going to the UK from the Canaries and Balearics, as Downing Street warned would-be holidaymakers that “no travel is risk-free” because of coronavirus.
Amid speculation the mandatory 14-day self-isolation rule could be imposed on other popular holiday destinations such as France, the travel industry is urging ministers to take a more targeted approach.
The Spanish government has questioned the UK’s decision to impose quarantine on people coming in from any part of Spain given several regions of the country, including the islands popular with British tourists, have lower rates of coronavirus infection than the UK.
However, it is not expected that the UK government will immediately change its advice to scrap quarantine restrictions for the Spanish islands.
Spain’s tourism minister, Reyes Maroto, said on Monday that the government was providing the UK with epidemiological updates about each of Spain’s 17 regions, adding that six of them were currently in a better situation than the UK.
“There have been conversations since the weekend with the British authorities about dropping quarantine for those visiting the islands as soon as possible,” Maroto said. “We’ll be talking to all the Spanish regions to see what they propose, and any proposals will be brought to the British authorities.”
The autonomous governments of Andalucía and Valencia have already asked for their regions to be included in the talks on lifting quarantine restrictions.
Maroto said Spain was trying to be as open and transparent as possible when it came to sharing information. “We want to use that information to bring confidence and transparency when it comes to taking decisions,” she said. “Our opposite numbers around Europe are doing the same thing and keeping us informed about the outbreaks, which are happening across all European countries and not just in Spain.”
The Association of British Travel Agents, easyJet and the lobby group Airlines UK have all called for a regional approach to quarantine.
Tui, Britain’s largest tour operator, said it was asking the UK government why the Canary and Balearic islands were included in the quarantine. The company has not yet cancelled trips to the islands, despite cancelling all holidays to the Spanish mainland up to 9 August.
Asked if other countries could also be subject to UK quarantine measures, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “We keep data for all countries and territories under constant review. We update our exemptions list with any changes on a regular basis.”
He added: “Unfortunately, no travel is risk-free during this pandemic, and disruption is possible, and so anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemptions list are under constant review as we monitor the international situation.”
The assessment of whether countries should face quarantine restrictions was made by the government’s new Joint Biosecurity Centre, the spokesman said, based on “a range of factors”. These include estimates for the proportion of the population currently infectious; virus incidence rates and trends in incidence and deaths; information on countries’ testing capacity, and assessments of the quality of data available.
The spokesman said the decision was made after an urgent review into the situation in Spain by the government’s Covid-19 operations committee, chaired by Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Others who took part in the meeting included the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who is on holiday in Spain and will need to self-isolate when he returns, and the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to Scotland on Sunday, Gove said the decision to include all Spain in the quarantine zone came despite the fact he had a holiday booked to Ibiza, one of the Balearics.
“We made the decision on the evidence,” Gove said. “I did crack a joke at the end against myself but the principle point was that this is a very serious situation. The incidence of the virus is higher in north east Spain [but] it is the case that the incidence of the virus is rising across Spain.”
He said the consensus view of the meeting “was that it was better to take the most cautious approach in terms of public health at this point, and that was to extend the ban to all of Spain, and to do so at the quickest practical effective timescale. And that was a shared decision over all.”
Gove added: “So the fact that I may now have to alter my holiday plans is irrelevant to this decision. It’s an inconvenience for me but that’s nothing compared to the importance of putting public health first.”