Europe’s airlines, hoteliers and tour operators fear abrupt changes to coronavirus travel rules by governments are killing their chances to salvage something of a wrecked vacation season.
The British government suddenly decided on Saturday to add Spain to its list of “at-risk” countries. As a result, Britons already on vacation in Spain have to quarantine for 14 days on their return. Others close to starting the summer holidays are reviewing their plans. This is a blow to hopes that the travel industry might be able to recoup some of its massive losses from the pandemic.
“This is going to cause absolute chaos for travel firms as they are at peak vacation season now,” says travel consultant Paul Charles.
“The timings could not be worse. With departures this weekend, there are about to be 2 million Brits on vacation in Spain. It is the last thing travel companies want to see because of the sheer volume of holiday makers affected. And it will be a huge blow to people there, who will now have to quarantine, or those about to fly on holiday,” he adds.
Britain isn’t alone in opting for caution
Saturday also saw Ireland omit Britain from a list of “safe” countries. It is telling its citizens it should be avoided for all but essential travel. France has in place a warning about travel to Spain. The border with Spain is open. But a French official told VOA that Paris is considering the possibility.
Norway, too, is advising against travel to Spain.
The sudden moves are likely to deter travelers generally from risking trips to other countries. This is because of the chance of new restrictions being imposed with little warning.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “This reinforces the point that these matters are subject to change at short notice and so my advice is to be cautious about non-essential foreign travel.”
Almost 40 countries worldwide have single-day increases in coronavirus infections. Fears of an imminent second wave of the pandemic in Europe are also mounting.
Cases increase in Spain
The British government’s Spain decision came without warning. Even the country’s own transport minister, Grant Shapps, is vacationing in Spain with his family. British officials say they had no option but to add Spain to the red list following a significant coronavirus spike there. Spain had an additional 2,255 new cases Friday, following 2,615 on Thursday.
Spanish authorities say they have identified 281 active outbreaks with a third of them triggered by social or family gatherings. Nightclubs are hot spots as well. The northeast region of Catalonia is the worst affected. There will be no nightlife for two weeks.
However, major towns away from the northeast are also seeing surges in confirmed cases. The Murcia region is sealing off 30,000 people in the town of Totana on Thursday. 55 people tested positive following a nightclub visit there. Restrictions are tight also in Zaragoza and Pamplona.
“There are important outbreaks. It could be a second wave. We’ll have to see what happens in the next few weeks,” says Maria José Sierra, Spain’s deputy emergency health director.
“Protecting public health is our absolute priority and we have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK,” Britain’s Department of Transport says in a statement. “We’ve always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country [from quarantine exemptions list] where necessary,” it adds.
Airlines and travel businesses react with anger
British Airways says the change “cannot fail to have an impact on an already troubled aviation industry.”
EasyJet, one of Europe’s biggest airlines, also reacted. “We are disappointed that the Government has decided to impose a quarantine requirement for those traveling from the whole of Spain since the increased occurrence of coronavirus is regional rather than nationwide.”
Moreover, Britain’s Airport Operators Association says it would “further damage what is already a fragile restart of the aviation sector which continues to face the biggest challenge in its history.”
British airline bosses and their counterparts say that the abruptness of the decision will chill vacation travel as a whole across the continent.
“This level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business,” says Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI, Britain’s biggest tour operator. TUI will cancel all reservations for Spain. It “won’t take customers on holiday” if they have to quarantine on their return.
Some travel experts say the decision to add Spain to the red list should have been made sooner and well before the weekend.
“Why on earth was this decision not taken 48 hours ago, when it was clear there was a problem with Spain. And before tens of thousands of UK holiday-makers flew out on Friday as the summer holidays started?” This is the question Rory Boland, editor of the travel magazine Which? is asking.
Anxiety is mounting across Europe that it could soon be back in the eye of the coronavirus storm. Officials say young people have been lowering their guard after lockdowns were lifted.
“We have canceled out much of the progress accomplished during the first weeks of exit from lockdown,” the French health ministry says.
French officials say some of the young people testing positive for the virus are not self-isolating.
There are also worries in the Italian region of Lazio, which includes Rome. Regional officials say that there could be a second lockdown. Coronavirus cases began to rise again there. Authorities warn that restrictions to curb the spread of the virus may be return.
Lazio’s health commissioner, Alessio D’Amato, is urging people to wear masks in public spaces.
“I appeal for the use of masks, otherwise, we’ll have to close down again. We can’t turn back and waste all the efforts done until now,” he says.