Holidaymakers returning from Spain will have to quarantine for 14 days after Covid second wave fears convinced ministers to remove the European country from the UK’s safe list.
The so-called “travel corridor” with Spain has been shutdown after it reported more than 900 new daily infections for the past two days.
The decision means those coming back from the popular holiday destination will have to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return to UK after all four administrations – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – opted to join forces over the move.
The fresh measures, which will come into effect from midnight tonight, not only caught unsuspecting members of the public off guard, but ministers too.
It has been confirmed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – whose department announced the rule change – flew to Spain on Saturday morning to start his summer holiday, meaning he will have to quarantine for a fortnight if the travel corridor remains suspended by the end of his trip.
A UK Government spokesman 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 reintroduction of quarantine measures will apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Palma and Ibiza, the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed.
The Foreign Office is now advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.
Employers are being urged by the DfT to be “understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate” following the sudden advice change.
But the move is likely to cast doubt on thousands of people’s holiday plans as they weigh up the risk of travelling to Spain and the need to stay home for two weeks upon arriving back in Britain.
Neil Hunter, 45, from Sittingbourne in Kent, booked a 10-day break to Lanzarote last December.
Due to leave on Tuesday, he told the PA news agency: “We were going as a family, my wife Amanda, and teenage daughter Bethany but to be honest, since this announcement, I’m unsure what’s going to happen as I work as a train driver, and I don’t think my employer will accept me having to isolate due to going on holiday.”
Spain has reported more than 900 new daily infections for the last two days as authorities warn the country that lost 28,000 lives before getting its outbreak under control could be facing the start of a second major outbreak.
On Thursday, the Spanish health ministry reported 971 new daily infections, the biggest daily increase since Spain’s lockdown ended.
Catalonia became the latest region to crack down on nightlife, trying to halt new infection clusters.
The wealthy north-east region – home to Barcelona – ordered all nightclubs to close for 15 days and put a midnight curfew on bars in the greater Barcelona area and other towns around Lleida that have become contagion hot zones.
The quarantine rules for those returning to Scotland from Spain had only been lifted this week by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s administration, in what has proved a quick U-turn.
Scotland’s 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.”
Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann said: “The decision to remove Spain from the exempt list was not taken lightly.
“I have spoken with my counterparts across the UK today and we agree that the recent upsurge in new positive cases in different parts of Spain are a cause for concern.
“As of midnight tonight, anyone returning or visiting Northern Ireland from Spain, including its islands will be required to quarantine for 14 days.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the news would be “deeply concerning for families” currently in Spain or who were planning a trip, and called for ministers to release details explaining how people affected would be supported.