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U-turn on Spanish islands travel advice

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has added the Balearic and Canary Islands to the list of areas where travel should be avoided, in a move which could cripple the Spanish tourism industry and will disrupt thousands of holiday plans.

The decision follows the announcement at the weekend that Brits returning from Spain would be required to quarantine for two weeks following an increase of coronavirus cases in parts of the country.

The FCO issued advice on Saturday advising against all but essential travel to Spain, but the Balearic and Canary Islands were excluded the warning.

Quarantine rules

However, holidaymakers returning from the islands were included in the quarantine rules, potentially causing a dilemma for many holidaymakers who would need extra time off work after their holiday.

Returning holidaymakers forced to self-isolate would not necessarily receive statutory sick pay (SSP). The government has urged employers to be understanding if workers need to go into quarantine following an overseas trip.

The government was under pressure from Spain to remove the quarantine requirement from the Spanish islands, which have significantly fewer coronavirus cases than mainland Spain. Many of the islands rely on income from tourism to keep the economy afloat.

Spanish tourism minister Reyes Maroto insisted it was safe for holidaymakers to visit the popular destinations.

She said: “We’ve been talking all weekend. What we’d like is for quarantines to be lifted on the islands as early as possible and we hope it will be today rather than tomorrow.”

Travel ban now includes islands

But instead of removing the quarantine requirement the UK’s FCO extended its travel ban advice to include the Spanish islands.

The FCO said the latest advice came after it considered “the impact of the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK”.

FCO advice is crucial as it normally acts as a trigger for travel insurance. Those with trips booked to the Balearic or Canary Islands should now be able to claim on the cancellation part of their travel insurance. But those who travel against government advice will be doing so uninsured.

Spain’s tourism association, Confederación Española de Hoteles y Alojamientos Turísticos (CEHAT) had offered to pay for tourists to take coronavirus tests. It called the quarantine decision “illogical” and “unfair”.

Holiday firm TUI has called on the government to take a more “targeted approach” to coronavirus quarantine measures.

The company’s UK managing director, Andrew Flintham, told Sky News a more “nuanced” attitude was called for after the quarantine measures affecting the whole of Spain were announced. Tui has cancelled flights to mainland Spain until 9 August.

The FCO is not advising those already travelling in mainland Spain, or on the country’s islands, to leave at this time.

Consumer confusion

Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “This is the third announcement we’ve heard from the government regarding travel to Spain in the last three days. Hundreds of thousands of UK holidaymakers in Spain or about to fly are utterly confused.

“While almost all package holidays are now likely to be cancelled, airlines are ignoring the FCO’s travel warning and continuing flights to Spain, therefore refusing customers refunds. While some airlines, like British Airways and Easyjet, are waiving rebooking fees, others, like Ryanair have said standard terms and conditions apply. This forces customers to make an impossible decision on whether to fly or risk losing their money.

“The reality is the government says you shouldn’t go, but the airlines won’t refund, and the regulator is yet to take any strong action against airlines who’ve been behaving terribly for months.”