Spain’s prime minister has condemned the UK’s decision to impose quarantine restrictions on British citizens returning from the country, criticising what he called an “unjust” policy.
Speaking to Spanish TV channel TeleCinco, Pedro Sánchez attacked the “error” of Britain treating islands such as Ibiza, Majorca and the Canaries — where there have been fewer cases of Covid-19 — in the same way as the mainland.
“It would be safer to be in those destinations than in the United Kingdom,” he said. “We are talking with British authorities to try to get them to reconsider.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that ministers were weighing a plan to cut the UK’s 14-day quarantine policy to 10 days in a move that could ease some of the fallout from the policy. That would see coronavirus tests offered to people after their first week in quarantine.
But Whitehall officials cautioned that the idea — while being discussed — was still not yet finalised.
Instead officials have warned that people should be aware that any foreign travel during a pandemic is risky. “You have to accept that if you go on holiday abroad there is a risk of this happening,” said one.
Infection rates have risen in recent days in countries including Croatia, France, Germany and Austria.
Simon Clarke, UK minister for regional growth and local government, told the BBC on Tuesday morning that while the quarantine rules were kept under constant review, the “position is totally unchanged” on the 14-day quarantine requirement for people returning from Spain.
He rejected the criticism from the Spanish prime minister, saying that it had been necessary to take the step following what he described as a “sharp uptick” in cases in Spain in recent days.
Ministers introduced the quarantine policy in early June in what critics described as a belated attempt to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic. Just three weeks later they announced a “traffic light system”, listing certain countries as “green”, indicating anyone travelling there would not be subject to quarantine on their return.
But Downing Street infuriated holiday makers and tourism industry executives on Saturday when Spain was removed at short notice from the green list, meaning that thousands of British people holidaying there will have to stay at home afterwards for a fortnight.
Mr Sánchez pointed out that the incidence of Covid-19 in most of Spain was “very much inferior” to the numbers registered in the UK. He pointed out that 64 per cent of Spanish cases were in two territories.
The overall rate of infection in Spain is currently 35 cases per 100,000 people compared with the UK’s 14.7 cases, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Despite appeals by the Spanish government to treat popular holiday destinations such as the Canary and Balearic Islands differently from the mainland, the UK’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on Monday evening warning Britons against all but essential travel to those islands.
The British authorities say it would be too difficult to take a regional or local approach to the quarantine rules.
“Within individual countries, there is no way for us to control intra-country transport,” James Bethell, health minister, told the Lords on Monday. “It is therefore very difficult and challenging to have a regional exemption list.”
There are concerns about those returning from Spain who are ordered to quarantine and will therefore not be able to go to work. On Monday Downing Street said they could apply for jobseekers’ allowance or universal credit.