British tourists flying home on Sunday after a holiday in Spain angrily reacted to an abrupt decision by their government to make everyone arriving from the Mediterranean country spend 14 days in quarantine.
Britain’s decision late on Saturday to take Spain off a safe-travel list over a rise in coronavirus cases took effect from midnight (2300 GMT on Saturday), leaving travellers with no time to dodge it, and with major concerns about their returns, tourists at Madrid’s Barajas airport said.
“It’s really bad because it’s just come all of a sudden, it’s not given very much time to prepare so everyone is now panicking,” said Emily Harrison, from Essex, who was taking a flight to London and faced the prospect of having to self-isolate for two weeks.
“It ruins plans for everybody,” Harrison said. “We had a wedding to go to and we had plans to visit friends and family who we haven’t seen in a very long time and now we are going to have to cancel all those plans, so it’s really quiet upsetting.”
Spain was one of the worst hit countries in Europe by the coronavirus 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.
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 a surge of cases 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.
While Spain was hard hit, Britain itself has been hit harder, with an official death toll of more than 45,600. Some British tourists pointed out that Spain’s mask-wearing rules were much stricter than Britain’s.
“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.
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.
“This decision is an absolute disaster for the recovery, there’s no other way to see this,” Angel Tavares, head of European Economics at Oxford Economics consulting, said on Twitter, referring to the quarantine ruling.
Antonio Perez, the mayor of Benidorm, a resort on Spain’s Costa Blanca that is hugely dependent on British tourists, said it was a “tough blow”.
In addition to the quarantine, the British foreign ministry advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain, prompting regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands to say they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people travelling back from the archipelagos.