Groups of British tourists have enjoyed a raucous night of drinking in Benidorm despite the the government’s new quarantine rules for Spain.
Crowds of merry holidaymakers were photographed in bars and restaurants drinking beers last night, while ignoring social distancing entirely.
Ministers announced at the weekend that everyone returning from Spain to the UK will now have to self-isolate at home for two weeks because of a spike in coronavirus cases.
The mayor of Benidorm Toni Perez says his objective in the ‘next few hours’ is to make sure the famous Costa Blanca resort is given ‘safe’ air corridor status so British holidaymakers don’t have to quarantine.
The town hall chief insisted Alicante-Elche airport should be given a ‘green light’ ranking so British tourists can continue to holiday in the area without having to self-isolate afterwards for 14 days.
He urged the Spanish government to put as much effort into defending the Costa Blanca as the Balearic Islands and the Canaries, which are the focus of current ‘air corridor’ negotiations between Madrid and the UK government.
And he insisted Benidorm had ‘worked hard and well’ to minimise Covid-19 risks and make it a ‘safe’ destination.
Measures put in place by town hall chiefs include a pioneering beach safety system which involves the marking out of thousands of squares on the sand to ensure social distancing for sun seekers.
Tourists and locals wanting to use the resort’s Levante beach have to pre-book their spot on the sand.
Mr Perez said: ‘Benidorm has worked very hard since minute one of this current situation to develop protocols and security measures for residents and tourists.
‘That work is yielding excellent results and reinforcing the security component which Benidorm has always offered.’
He added: ‘British tourists are fundamental for the recovery and maintenance of tourist activity which is going to plan in Benidorm, given the fact that the rate of reservations was increasing.’
In a clear reference to the ongoing government talks about a Balearic Islands and Canaries quarantine exemption, he called on Madrid to ensure ‘some tourist areas’ were not given favourable treatment.
He added: ‘I urge the Spanish government to avoid declarations of intent ‘which favour island destinations over mainland holiday resorts.’
He insisted: ‘Cancelling the restrictions which mean British holidaymakers have to self-isolate when they return home and creating a safe air corridor from Alicante-Elche airport is Benidorm’s objective in the next few hours.
‘We continue to work towards generating confidence in our resort and offering a safe destination.’
Karen Maling Cowles, president of the Benidorm British Businesses Association, said of Saturday’s shock quarantine decision: ‘It’s quite devastating for the town really, all of us here.
‘I personally was looking forward in two and a half weeks to seeing my son and family who I haven’t seen since Christmas.
‘They won’t be able to come now because of the quarantine as the children have school when they get back, my son has work and the same with his wife.
‘It will affect many like myself who were looking forward to enjoying time with their families.
‘Not only that, but it will affect businesses here and the economy here. It’s a huge setback for us all.
‘It will affect the little tourism that we do have coming to Benidorm this year massively.’
Mr Perez reacted to the UK quarantine decision by admitting late Saturday: ‘We very much regret it. In Benidorm we’ve worked a lot to minimise the risks and we haven’t got any problems here at the moment.
‘It’s a very safe destination with beaches which are very well organised and businesses which have established protocols and are applying them.
‘The problem in Spain is in certain areas, but in the end this decision affects us all and especially resorts like ours whose main market is British.
‘We are going to continue working along the lines we have been up to now, knowing that what we’ve been doing has been done well and that we offer a safe destination thanks to the hard work of everyone here.’
He added: ‘These questions of quarantine are something we can’t control but Benidorm will continue to welcome those who want to come here and will continue to offer visitors including foreign tourists maximum health security.’
Toni Mayor, president of the Benidorm and Costa Blanca hotel association Hosbec, described the shock UK move as a ‘hammer blow.’
He said: ‘It couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was looking pretty good from August 1.
‘Bookings were up including family bookings and around 85 per cent of our hotels were going to be open and we were looking forward to having at least something of a normal summer.
‘This announcement is going to bring everything crashing down.
‘The British tourists who are already here have got no other option but to stay and self-isolate when they return.
‘But I fear a lot of those who were going to come are now going to cancel.
‘There’s got to be a question mark over how many tour operators are going to carry on operating as planned.
‘It’s not just places like Benidorm that’s going to suffer, other popular holiday destinations like the Canaries and Majorca are going to be hard hit too.
‘The UK is 18 million holidaymakers every year and the British are Spain’s number one holiday market.’
He added: ‘There were hotels in Benidorm which were going to open on August 1 with the increased number of British arrivals that will end up staying closed now, and others that had opened but could shut following this announcement.
‘There’s bound to be question marks now about whether the Spanish government should have allowed discos and pubs to open so quickly.
‘But the reality here is this pandemia has been a learning experience for all of us.
‘It’s a very complicated situation. I think we can wave goodbye to any hopes of a normal summer now with this announcement.
‘I’m obviously very concerned about the outlook for the future.’
Ximo Puig, President of the Valencian Community which includes the provinces of Alicante, Valencia and Castellon, called on Sunday for his region and especially the Costa Blanca which includes resorts like Benidorm to be given a UK quarantine exemption.
Andalucia is also fighting to be included in an air corridor scheme.
Francisco Salado, President of the Provincial Council of Malaga and the Costa del Sol tourist board, has claimed the whole of Spain is suffering the ‘tremendous injustice’ of the ‘failure’ of the pro-independence Catalan government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Catalonia is battling two of Spain’s worst three coronavirus outbreaks at the moment – in Barcelona and Lleida.
Catalan president Quim Torra warned this morning he may put the entire region of 7.5 million inhabitants under a draconian home lockdown in 10 days time unless the health situation there improves.