Britain acted swiftly to impose a quarantine on travellers returning from Spain after seeing data on Friday recording a large jump in coronavirus cases, foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
Asked by Sky News why the decision was taken with so little notice, Raab said: “Because the cases in Spain, the data we got was on the Friday, we obviously compiled that through the course of the day.
“It showed a big jump right across mainland Spain. That was then assessed yesterday afternoon and we took the decision as swiftly as we could. We can’t make apologies for doing so; we must be able to take swift, decisive action,” he said, describing the move as a “a real-time response”.
British tourists flying home on Sunday from holidays in Spain reacted angrily to the UK government’s abrupt decision to impose a two-week coronavirus quarantine on everyone travelling from there.
The move to take Spain off a safe-travel list was announced late on Saturday and took effect from midnight (2300 GMT on Saturday), leaving travellers with no time to dodge it or plan ahead.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government was slammed for its handling of the measure, taken as Spain sees a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I can understand why the government have made this decision … but of course the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” said the Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking to Sky News.
Spain had been on a list of countries that the British government had said were safe for travellers to visit – meaning tourists returning home would not have to go into quarantine.
But it has seen cases rise in the last few weeks, prompting most regions to impose rules for masks to be worn everywhere and, in several areas including Barcelona, calls for people to stay at home.
“We’re quite frustrated by it to be honest, because it actually feels safer in Spain,” British tourist Carolyne Lansell, who was wearing a mask, said of the quarantine decision.
Lansell was flying to Ibiza from Madrid for a 10-day holiday before going home.
A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Saturday evening that Spain “respects decisions of the United Kingdom” and was in touch with the authorities there.
Spain was one of the worst hit countries in Europe by the pandemic, with more than 290,000 cases and over 28,000 deaths. It imposed very strict lockdown measures to contain the spread, gradually easing them earlier in the summer.
The British decision follows steps by Norway on Friday to re-impose a 10-day quarantine requirement for people arriving from Spain, while France advised people not to travel to Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia.
But a collapse of tourism from Britain would have far more of an impact on Spain’s economy.
Britons made up more than 20% of foreign visitors to Spain last year, the largest group by nationality, a key source of income for a country that depends on tourism for about 12% of its economy.
Spain’s central bank has said the economy could shrink by 11.6% in 2020, without ruling out an even sharper contraction of 15.1% in case of a new wave of coronavirus.
In addition to the quarantine, the British foreign ministry advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.
Regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands, which are popular holiday destinations, said they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people travelling back from the archipelagos.