U.K. Weighs Easing of Travel Rules After Spanish Backlash

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The U.K. is considering ways to loosen its coronavirus quarantine rules after restrictions on trips to Spain provoked a backlash from tourists, airlines and the government in Madrid.

Plans being examined by officials include abandoning blanket curbs on travel to whole countries in favor of regional restrictions, and reducing the time passengers arriving in Britain will need to stay in quarantine.

Transport minister Charlotte Vere unveiled the government’s latest thinking in answer to questions in the U.K. Parliament’s upper chamber on Tuesday.

“We are looking at all eventualities because we would like to reduce the days in isolation if we possibly can,” Vere said. The U.K. is also considering regional rules to replace whole-country restrictions, such as the one imposed on Spain, she added. “We could put them in place for regions in the future -- we’re not there yet, but we are looking at it because it’s an appropriate consideration.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been lambasted by opponents for not acting fast enough to lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic, and Vere referred to that criticism when she told lawmakers the government had to act quickly over the risk of people arriving from Spain.

Her comments came after ministers advised Britons against all non-essential trips to Spain and ordered arrivals from Spanish airports to quarantine for 14 days amid fears of a spike in cases. The mixed messages risk confusing both consumers and businesses alike.

Balancing Act

For Spain, the loss of British tourism is a major economic blow, while airlines and travelers caught by surprise at the sudden change in U.K. rules also complained. For governments at large, the need to keep people safe while trying to resume life as normal is a balancing act.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez described the U.K.’s blanket rule, which takes in areas of the country with low levels of the disease as well as hot-spots, as “unbalanced.” British officials have insisted the measures are necessary to combat the spread of the virus.

And on Tuesday, Johnson reinforced his warning that a new wave of infections may force the U.K. to add more European countries to the list of trouble-spots.

“Clearly we now face, I’m afraid, the threat of a second wave in other parts of Europe and we just have to be vigilant and we have to be very mindful,” Johnson told reporters near Nottingham, central England. “We will continue throughout the summer to take such action where it is necessary.”

Hours after Johnson spoke, the danger of an upswing of cases in Britain was laid bare as authorities in Oldham, northern England, imposed tougher restrictions on residents for two weeks to try to contain a local outbreak.

Adding to the pain for the Spanish tourist industry, Germany warned against non-essential travel to the regions of Catalonia, Navarre and Aragon amid fears the virus is spreading in these areas. Germans are the second-biggest tourist group for Spain, behind Britons.

Talks have been held between British and Spanish officials and there were reports ahead of Vere’s comments that the U.K. is weighing the option of reducing the quarantine period.

The Telegraph newspaper suggested the period of mandatory self-isolation could be reduced from 14 days to 10.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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