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Travel chaos as Spain is kicked off exempted countries list

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

New government advice saw Spain removed from the safe travel corridor list on Saturday afternoon, after an increase in coronavirus cases in the country.

Holidaymakers returning from Spain must now go into quarantine for two weeks, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) re-imposing its advice warning against all non-essential travel to mainland Spain.

The advice is based on evidence of increases in coronavirus cases in several regions, particularly in Aragon, Navarra and Catalonia, including the cities of Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona.

The new rules came into force less than six hours after being announced and gave Brits until midnight on Saturday to get back to the UK or face 14 days self-isolation on their return.

Spain was on a list of countries deemed safe to visit when travel restrictions were lifted earlier this month. The FCO removed its warning against all but essential travel to Spain, and travellers didn’t need to quarantine on return.

But that all changed at the weekend when the government issued new guidance, plunging the holidays, and holiday plans, of thousands of Brits into chaos.

What’s the government advice?

On Saturday, the government said changes to the exemption list would take effect from midnight the same day, meaning anyone returning from Spain after that time would have to self-isolate.

A government spokesperson said: “Protecting public health is our absolute priority and we have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK.

“We’ve always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary. Both our list of quarantine exemptions and the FCO travel advice are being updated to reflect these latest risk assessments.”

The devolved administrations all took the same decision, so travellers arriving from Spain into all parts of the UK will need to self-isolate.

What about Spanish islands?

The situation is slightly confusing to anyone on holiday in, or planning a trip to, the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands.

The FCO is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain – but the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa) and Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera) are exempt from this advice.

This is because Covid-19 infection rates are lower on the islands than mainland Spain.

But, perhaps confusingly, travellers are still required to self-isolate when returning from the Canary and Balearic Islands.

FCO warnings are important as they are usually the trigger for travel insurance cover. When one is in place, it usually means you can claim for cancellation on your travel insurance if you can’t travel.

If you decide to travel despite an FCO warning, your insurance will normally become invalid.

Should you cut your holiday short?

The government stopped short of suggesting holidaymakers already in Spain return home straight away.

The FCO said: “Travellers should follow the advice of the local authorities on how best to protect themselves and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus. If you are returning from Spain (including from the Balearics and Canaries) on or after 26 July you will be required to quarantine on your return to the UK, but the FCO is not advising you to cut short your visit.”

What are the self-isolation rules?

Those going into quarantine must provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days.

During those two weeks, people mustn’t go to work, school, or public areas, or have visitors except for essential support. They shouldn’t go out to buy food if they can rely on others.

People who break the rules can be fined up to £1,000 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and those returning to Scotland could be fined £480, with fines up to £5,000 for persistent offenders.

Will my employer pay me while I self-isolate?

If you arrived back from Spain after midnight on Saturday and can’t work from home, the situation regarding work and pay is not yet clear.

The official advice from the government is that you’re not entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if you’re self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK.

The government is urging employers to be “understanding” of those returning from Spain who now need to self-isolate.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said no worker following quarantine guidance should be penalised by employers.

He said: “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.”

See YourMoney.com’s ‘Will I be paid if I have to self-isolate after my holiday in Spain?’ for more information.

What about future holidays?

Almost 1.8m people were due to fly from the UK to Spain before the end of August, according to analysis by travel experts The PC Agency.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “For those with future bookings to Spain, many tour operators are now likely to cancel holidays.

“People may want to support their holiday company by accepting a refund credit note or rebooking for a later date, but it’s important operators make clear any drawbacks. Customers have the legal right to a cash refund if their package holiday is cancelled.”

Package holiday firm Tui has cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until 9 August, but said all those going to the Balearic and Canary Islands could still travel as planned from Monday.

British Airways and Easyjet said flights to Spain will continue to operate.

Boland said: “It’s unfortunate that some airlines, yet again, seem intent on ignoring the change in circumstances in Spain by operating all flights and therefore refusing to offer refunds.

“EasyJet and British Airways customers will at least be able to cancel and claim a voucher for future rebooking, but it’s unclear which dates holidaymakers can safely rebook for. Meanwhile, Ryanair has not yet published what options its passengers with flights to Spain have. It must, at the very least, offer rebooking without charge.”