Boris Johnson today warned there are ‘signs of a second wave’ of coronavirus in Europe as he defended the UK’s decision to reimpose quarantine rules on Spanish travel.
Britain’s decision to drop Spain from its safe travel list has sparked a diplomatic war between Madrid and London.
The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the UK’s blanket ban on all non-essential travel to Spain is an ‘error’ and is ‘unjust’.
But Mr Johnson insisted this morning the UK Government must act quickly to respond to what it believes are threats to the domestic fight against coronavirus.
He said: ‘What we have to do is take swift and decisive action where we think that the risks are starting to bubble up again.
‘Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.’
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson insisted it is up to individuals to decide whether to travel abroad this summer amid mounting uncertainty and questions over whether holidays to other European nations could also soon be axed.
He said: ‘These are decisions for families, for individuals, about where they want to go.’
He added: ‘It’s vital that when people are coming back from abroad, if they are coming back from a place where I’m afraid there is another outbreak, they must go into quarantine.
‘That’s why we have taken the action that we have and we will continue, throughout the summer, to take such action where it is necessary.’
The sense of uncertainty over booking trips abroad only increased after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would not currently book a foreign holiday over fears quarantine rules could quickly change.
She said people should be ‘very, very cautious about booking foreign travel’ and that ‘I wouldn’t, if you were asking me, be booking a foreign holiday right now because of these reasons’. She said she would instead choose to go on holiday in Scotland.
The Spanish Government today insisted that Spain remains a safe and ‘secure’ destination for tourists as Germany also imposed travel restrictions on its European neighbour.
Berlin has linked foreign holidays to a ‘concerning’ rise in cases in Germany and it has now advised its citizens to avoid the regions of Catalonia, Aragon and Navarre – but not the southern coast or the Spanish islands.
The Government announced on Saturday that it was tightening rules on travel to Spain because of rising case numbers.
But ministers faced accusations of presiding over chaos after initially banning travel to the Spanish mainland but travel was still allowed to the Canary and Balearic islands.
However, everyone returning to Britain from anywhere in Spain was still told they have to quarantine for 14 days.
The Foreign Office then moved last night to toughen the travel advice relating to the Spanish islands to bring them into line with the rules applying to the mainland.
Britons make up over a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies heavily on tourism, and Madrid has said the UK government gave it no warning that the quarantine move was coming last weekend.
Mr Sanchez told Spanish TV station Telecinco on Monday night: ‘I think the UK’s decision is an incorrect one.
‘Spain is made up of a number of regions that have a cumulative rate of contagion that is lower than the European average as well as the UK average.
‘The Spanish tourist industry has acted very responsibly over the past few months and has transferred a message of security with regards to the health emergency we are experiencing.
‘It’s true that on a global level the coronavirus pandemic continues to show a very worrying development and at European level as well, but in Spain the spread of the virus is not occurring in a uniform way.’
Mr Sanchez said the Spanish government is pushing for the UK to reverse its decision as he claimed that ‘in epidemiological terms, it would be safer to be’ in certain parts of Spain on holiday than in the UK.
‘We are going to carry on talking because we are friends and we have many commercial and economic links as well as geopolitical links,’ he said.
A spokeswoman for the Spanish government insisted today that the country is still a safe place for tourists to visit.
The spokeswoman said: ‘We are a secure destination that has made preparations and strengthened itself to deal with the virus and any outbreaks.’
She added: ‘All the figures demonstrate the situation is good in most of the country, where the regional authorities have only registered a low incidence of the illness.’
Diplomatic ties were strained this morning after local government minister Simon Clarke said the UK disagreed with Mr Sanchez’s assessment that travel to Spain should be allowed to continue.
Mr Clarke told the BBC: ‘We respectfully disagree with the Spanish government’s position on this.
‘We obviously continue to work closely with them and we wish them every success in managing this outbreak, but we’ve seen a very sharp increase in cases in Spain.
‘A 75 per cent increase in cases reported between the middle of last week and the end of last week. That’s why we took the action that we have.
‘Clearly, you do have to make decisions on a country-wide basis. There is going to be internal transfer within Spain and it’s important that we do our utmost to protect the public.’
Ministers decided on Saturday to reimpose quarantine restrictions on Spain after it emerged 10 Britons had returned from the country with coronavirus and Professor Chris Whitty said ‘doing nothing isn’t an option’.
The Government’s Covid-O committee met at the weekend after Health Secretary Matt Hancock raised concerns about a spike in Spanish infections on Friday.
The group of six senior ministers, which includes Michael Gove, Grant Shapps and Priti Patel, were apparently told by Prof Whitty, the chief medical officer, that the situation in Spain had deteriorated in the last 48 hours.
Ministers were told there had been an increase in infection in 15 of Spain’s 19 regions but the ‘clincher’ was the fact that 10 Britons had recently tested positive after coming back from the country.
Prof Whitty described the number as ‘statistically significant’ as ministers took the controversial decision to reimpose quarantine on Spanish travellers at less than five hours notice.
The account of the meeting came as Mr Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he will return early from his holiday in Spain tomorrow amid growing fears that holidays in France and Germany could also be axed because of rising infection rates.
There is also mounting speculation that travel to Belgium could soon be impacted after the country put the brakes on its coronavirus lockdown exit strategy.