June 24, 2024


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Holidaymakers returning from Spain asked to take Covid test over fears virus could be imported into the UK

Woman wearing a face mask on the beach in Spain - Reuters
Woman wearing a face mask on the beach in Spain – Reuters

All holidaymakers who have returned from Spain since last week are expected to be advised by the Government to take a Covid-19 test as soon as possible.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is expected on Monday to give the go-ahead for the testing by people even if they do not have symptoms.

It comes amid concerns that returning British holidaymakers could be importing the virus from Spain, which has been hit by a surge in cases that has doubled its rate per 100,000 of the population from 13 to 26.

The Government reimposed quarantine on Spain late on Saturday, giving holidaymakers just six hours before it took effect, and forcing them to self-isolate for 14 days if they returned after midnight.

It followed new data that showed “significant” increases in 15 of the 19 Spanish regions, according to government sources. One said: “It’s fair to say that we’re keeping lots of countries under monitoring but the data from Spain was really bad.

“Spain creates a particular risk because of the travel volumes between Spain and the UK.”  

The decision was taken in a Covid-19 Cabinet committee meeting on Saturday with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove;  Mr Hancock;  Stephen Barclay, the Treasury Chief Secretary, and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who was linked via video from his holiday in Spain.  

Mr Hancock was said to have been “really worried about it”.   Speaking on the BBC on Monday morning, the health minister Helen Whately said the Government had to act “rapidly and decisively” to impose a quarantine on people arriving in the UK from Spain.

Asked about a quarantine for other countries, such as France and Germany, she said No 10 would monitor virus rates and “take action” if necessary.

“What we said throughout the time when we’ve put in place the policy on the travel corridors, the air bridges, is that we would need to keep those under review, that we would need to monitor the rates in other countries,” said Ms Whately.

“That is exactly what we’ve done in Spain, so we are enacting the policy that we committed to doing. The rate was going up very rapidly in Spain and we had to take very rapid, decisive action.”

Close to 1.8 million holidays were likely to have been thrown into chaos by the move, according to travel company The PC Agency, which analysed the number of seats booked on flights leaving the UK for Spain between July 26 and Aug 31. 

There is growing pressure on the Government to exclude the Balearic and Canary islands – which have been declared safe by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office  but still require holidaymakers returning from them to quarantine for 14 days in Britain.

Andrew Flintham, the managing director of TUI, Britain’s biggest holiday operator, called for a “more nuanced policy” to include rules based on regions as well as countries.

He noted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not advising against non-essential travel to Spain’s Balearic Islands, but the quarantine requirement covers arrivals from both mainland Spain and its islands.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Flintham said: “If the Balearics are still OK to go to – and clearly the travel advice says you can travel – should we have a different quarantine or no quarantine for those and not lump it all together, as in one big total Spain quarantine?

“We’re really after a little bit of a nuance because, being honest, going forward, with something like the United States, it could be there’s a problem in Florida but not in California, and you wouldn’t want to close the whole of the United States to tourists.”

Tui has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain up to and including Aug 9.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said there were “serious questions” about the blanket self-isolation requirement.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The first is why we are still employing the… blunt tool of the 14-day quarantining rather than smarter measures, and secondly the chaotic nature of the decision-making which certainly hasn’t bred confidence in the Government’s approach.”

Mr Thomas-Symonds added: “I think you need a smarter set of quarantine measures at the airport. I’ve suggested this test, trace and isolate regime but you can also have temperature checking and other things – you look at a range of measures.”

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