Travellers were last night warned they face a ‘summer of uncertainty’, as ministers said the Spanish quarantine chaos could be extended to other destinations.
A shock decision to enforce a 14-day quarantine for those returning from Spain has wrecked the travel plans of millions and triggered confusion over refunds.
Many are now unable to travel and some will have no recourse to compensation.
Tens of thousands of Britons holidaying in Spain were last night warned they will not even be eligible for statutory sick pay.
Ministers urged employers to be ‘flexible’, but legal experts warned some workers could lose pay or even face the sack.
The decision to take Spain off the ‘safe list’ of quarantine-free destinations followed a surge in cases last week. The move, which came barely two weeks after quarantine restrictions were lifted on Spain, left the travel industry in shock.
The prospect of travellers to France suffering the same fate was raised yesterday when the country’s prime minister said ‘localised lockdowns’ may be imposed if infections continue to rise. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there was ‘an element of uncertainty this summer as people go abroad’ – with rules potentially changing at very short notice.
He acknowledged this would be ‘inconvenient’, but said it was essential to prevent a second wave of coronavirus being imported.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘We can’t make apologies for doing so. We must be able to take swift, decisive action.’
Mr Raab urged employers to ‘respond flexibly and in an understanding way’. He said the public ‘cannot be penalised in this country lawfully for following the rules’.
But lawyers warned that some workers could be punished.
Employment barrister Grahame Anderson said: ‘If you come back from Spain today and your boss says you have to be in work on Monday, there’s not a great deal you can do if they say “well if you don’t come, in I’m not going to pay you”. And if you haven’t been there for two years, you’ve got very little protection against being dismissed as well.’
Spain is Britain’s top holiday destination – the quarantine rule will hit an estimated 2.2 million travellers who have holiday or flight bookings. Their rights to a refund are now mired in confusion.
This stems from fact the Government has decided to treat travel to mainland Spain differently to the Balearic and Canary islands.
The situation is complicated by the fact that refund rights are different for package holidays versus trips that travellers put together themselves. Official advice governs legal rights to a refund.
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the handling of the decision was ‘frankly shambolic’, and called for financial help for those affected.
The editor of Which? Travel, Rory Boland, said: ‘Many holidaymakers will be deeply angry that the government didn’t make this decision 48 hours ago, before tens of thousands of them flew off for their summer holidays in Spain.’
Yesterday, Spain’s foreign minister said she was in talks with Britain to create an air corridor for the Balearics and Canaries.
That’s it for holidays abroad this summer.
The sorry truth is that the Government’s decision to advise against all non-essential travel to mainland Spain – and re-impose a two-week quarantine – will have a dramatic knock-on effect, as millions of families rethink their travel plans. And all this just when it seemed like overseas travel was finally struggling back onto its feet.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made clear yesterday that other countries could be next.
Refusing to apologise, he said he and his Cabinet colleagues ‘must be able to take swift, decisive action’. Yet such swift action was sadly lacking back in April, when people were still pouring into Britain from all over the world, bringing the virus with them, without going into quarantine.
Since then, there’s been hardly any ‘action’ at all on testing arrivals at airports.
Instead, we now have a blanket rule for Spain – the most popular destination for British tourists – which could affect up to two million people in the coming months. The decision was taken late on Saturday after ministers discussed rates of infection in Spain. But the data was available on Friday, meaning the announcement could have been made more than 24 hours earlier, before thousands had set off for the airport, and giving those in Spain time to change their plans.
True ‘decisive action’ surely would have made a clear distinction between mainland Spain, which has seen a surge in infections, and the Canary Islands, Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza, where there have been fewer cases.
Yes, the Foreign Office has said that we can visit the Canaries and Balearics. But we will still have to quarantine for 14 days on our return. It’s increasingly difficult to track and trace the Government’s thinking on travel, whether it’s the ‘air bridges’ debacle, which cruises to avoid, the continued red-listing of Portugal and now a blanket ban on travel to mainland Spain with hardly any warning.
Thousands will now have to start the grim process of seeking refunds from holiday companies and airlines, or accept vouchers, while travel firms who had hoped to claw back some money in August will find themselves plunged back into crisis. The summer of 2020 is turning out to be a chilling one.