Beachgoers relax on the beach in Salou, Spain, on Monday, July 27 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANGEL GARCIA
Beachgoers relax on the beach in Salou, Spain, on Monday, July 27 2020. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ANGEL GARCIA

Madrid — Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez responded angrily to the UK ratcheting up its travel ban to Spain to include popular holiday islands.

“The decision is unbalanced,” Sánchez said in interview with local television broadcaster Telecinco. The Balearic and Canary Islands, he said “have a lower incidence of the coronavirus than is being registered right now” in Britain.

With its tourism-reliant economy on its knees, Spain is desperate to convince the UK to reconsider its thinking as stranded Britons, prospective travelers and airlines all complained.

The move followed a steady rise in new coronavirus infections in Spain last week and led other European countries, including France, to begin advising against trips to some parts of Spain.

‘Internal transfer’

On Tuesday, the UK defended its decision not to distinguish between the different regions of Spain.

“We respectfully disagree with the Spanish government,” local government minister Simon Clarke told the BBC. “You do have to make decisions on a countrywide basis. There is going to be internal transfer within Spain.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already ordered everyone returning home from Spain to be quarantined for 14 days and his top diplomat told Sky News on Sunday “we cannot make apologies for doing so”.

“We have considered the overall situation for British nationals traveling to and from the Balearic and Canary Islands, including the impact of the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK, and concluded that we should advise British nationals against all non-essential travel to the whole of Spain,” the UK foreign office said in a statement.

The Telegraph newspaper reported the quarantine measures may be shaved to 10 days, to try to save something of the holiday season.

Green light

The EU is set to keep its external borders shut to many countries including the US and is leaning towards shortening a list of 13 states — Canada, China, Japan and South Korea among them — with residents having been given the green light to visit the bloc, according to officials.

Before Monday’s announcement, the tourism industry had hoped the islands would be exempt from the UK’s quarantine requirement. Instead, the official advice was extended to include the popular summer destinations.

On Monday, James Slack, Johnson’s official spokesperson, said travelers should be aware that the advice could change for other destinations if they see a spike in coronavirus cases.

“No travel is risk-free and disruption is possible,” Slack told reporters on a conference call. “Anyone traveling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list are under constant review as we monitor the international situation.”

Key market

That will be of little comfort to Spain. The UK is critical to its economy — many of its pensioners have retired along the country’s Mediterranean coast, and British sun-seekers account for 20% of Spain’s overall visitors.

For Sánchez, the UK’s actions are not just disproportionate, they are flawed. He urged the UK to find the correct balance based on the data.

New infections in Spain rose last week to the highest since early May, but the government’s top epidemiologist explained the situation is very different now because the number of intensive care patients and deaths isn’t increasing, signaling that cases are being detected early on as medical testing has improved.

Leading UK airline operators continued to lose ground after Monday’s drops, with easyJet down 2.14% at 9.46am in London, and British Airways owner IAG down 1.79%. Leading Spanish tourism-linked stocks managed to recoup some losses on Tuesday, after plummeting on Monday on the announcement, with leading vacation-resort operator Meliá Hotels International up 2.6% and airport operator Aena was up 1.93%, after dropping 1.81%.

Bloomberg

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