Angry with UK's travel restrictions, Spain now faces further loss of German tourists

New infections in Spain rose last week to the highest since early May.
New infections in Spain rose last week to the highest since early May.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (BLOOMBERG) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who responded angrily to the United Kingdom ratcheting up its travel ban to Spain to include popular holiday islands, now faces the prospect of losing German tourists in the busiest summer month as well.

In an interview with local broadcaster Telecinco, the Spanish leader called UK's decision "unbalanced" and said there were more cases of the virus in Britain than in the Balearic and Canary Islands.

On Tuesday (July 28), the UK defended its decision not to distinguish between the different regions of Spain. With its tourism-reliant economy on its knees, Spain is desperate to convince the UK to reconsider as stranded Britons, prospective travellers and airlines all complained.

To make matters worse, Germany on Tuesday recommended avoiding non-essential travel to the regions of Catalonia, Navarra and Aragon, citing concerns over higher coronavirus case numbers and local lockdowns. Germans are the main tourist group to Spain, behind Britons.

The moves followed a steady rise in new coronavirus infections in Spain last week and led other European countries, including France and Belgium, to begin advising against trips to some parts of Spain. The advice has also created friction.

"We respectfully disagree with the Spanish government," Mr Simon Clarke, a junior housing, communities and local government minister, told the BBC. "You do have to make decisions on a country-wide basis. There is going to be internal transfer within Spain."

British 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".

The Foreign Office said in a statement: "We have considered the overall situation for British nationals travelling 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 Telegraph newspaper reported that the quarantine measures may be shaved to 10 days, to try and save something of the holiday season.

 
 
 

The European Union is set to keep its external borders shut to many countries, including the United States, and is leaning towards shortening a list of 13 - Canada, China, Japan and South Korea among them - whose residents have the green light to visit the bloc, according to officials.

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

Mr James Slack, Prime Minister Johnson's official spokesman, said travellers 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," Mr Slack told reporters on a conference call. "Anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list are under constant review as we monitor the international situation."

The UK is critical to the Spanish economy - many of its pensioners have retired along the country's Mediterranean coast, and British sun-seekers account for 20 per cent of Spain's overall visitors.

For Prime Minister Sanchez, 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 that the situation is very different now because the numbers of intensive care patients and deaths are not increasing, signalling that cases are being detected early on as medical testing has improved.