The government has warned it “won’t hesitate” to add more countries to its quarantine list at short notice – despite anger among Britons who went to Spain unaware they would have to isolate for two weeks upon returning.
Ministers faced questions after Spain was added to the list from midnight on Saturday with just a few hours’ warning.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News the government received data on Friday which showed a “big jump” in COVID-19 cases across the country.
He said ministers looked at the data on Saturday afternoon and acted as quickly as they could – and the Department for Transport stands ready to do the same again.
A government source said: “The evidence is kept under constant review and if this changes and the risk increases in any country we will not hesitate to act – as the Spain decision shows.”
The Daily Telegraph is reporting that officials in both France and Germany have warned of possible new lockdowns as parts of Europe are readying for a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
France said at the weekend that its R-rate was up to 1.3 – with countries aiming for 1 or less in order to contain the virus. Daily new infections on Friday rose to 1,130.
Spain’s ministry of foreign affairs said the situation in the country was “under control”, with outbreaks “localised, isolated and controlled”.
But the number of cases there has tripled in two weeks, with more than 900 new infections reported on Friday.
British travellers at Madrid’s Barajas Airport felt they had no time to change plans or come home earlier after Saturday’s announcement.
Emily Harrison, from Essex, who is flying to London, said: “I think 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, and I also think it ruins plans for everybody, so I don’t really agree with that because it has come too soon. We haven’t had enough preparation.”
The quarantine affects Britons coming back from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa) and the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera).
Close to 1.8 million holidays were likely to have been thrown into chaos by the move, according to travel company The PC Agency.
The government is asking employers to be “understanding” of workers who need to self-isolate.
But Pippa Stickler, who is due to fly home on Monday, said she and her partner are unable to get 14 days off work upon their return.
She said: “My partner is in a hands-on job with only four days’ holiday remaining, so it has to be unpaid, and I can’t work from home so cannot be off.
“This news is awful and is too last minute. They should of given plenty of notice for this news. As if we weren’t in financial difficulty enough!”
Mr Raab said no employee should be penalised for isolating, telling Sky News: “We are changing the rules – the law is changed in relation to holidaymakers and travellers – and of course we expect employers show those employees, who will have to quarantine because of the law, the flexibility they need.
“If someone is following the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them.”
Britons have been advised against all but essential travel to mainland Spain by the Foreign Office, but this does not apply to the Balearics or Canaries.
According to The Times, trips to France, Italy and Greece are being cancelled in “large numbers” following the ruling by ministers on Spain, a development likely to heap further pressure on an already under-strain travel sector.
Holiday company Tui has cancelled all holidays to mainland Spain up to and including 9 August, but those who wish to travel to the Balearic and Canary Islands will be able to travel as planned from Monday.
British Airways and easyJet both expressed “disappointment” with the Spain decision, but said flights would not be immediately affected.
BA added that customers who no longer wished to travel to Spain could contact them to claim a voucher for future travel, while easyJet has said customers can transfer their flights without a change fee or get a voucher for the value of their booking.