Spain’s tourism industry is at increasing risk of being shut down as countries across Europe seek to restrict visits to the Mediterranean nation, following an order by the British government to quarantine visitors.
“Spain is a safe country,” Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said Sunday. “Spain has outbreaks. As do other countries. What’s important is that Spain is making great efforts to control these outbreaks.”
A steady increase in new infections in Spain last week pushed Boris Johnson’s government on Saturday to order a 14-day quarantine for all visitors from Spain. Other European countries, including Belgium, France and Norway, have also begun advising against visits to certain areas in Spain, and more restrictions could be coming, threatening a sector that accounts for 12% of the country’s economy.
The increase in new cases is “definitely an issue” for Germany too, Berlin’s Health Minister Dilek Kalayci said in an interview.
The UK’s decision to quarantine travellers from Spain creates a tense standoff between two countries that need each other as the prospect of a second wave of coronavirus gets real. Both their economies are tanking during critical summer months when people are finally emerging from lockdown and ready to spend.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the government’s actions in an interview with Sky News on Sunday: “We took the decision as swiftly as we could, and we cannot make apologies for doing so.”
Taking decisive action was important, “otherwise we risk re-infection into the UK, potentially a second wave here and the another lockdown,” he said.
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% of Spain’s overall visitors. The tension takes place against a backdrop of Brexit, with the UK severing its ties with the European Union.
The shock UK travel ruling was prompted by new virus cases spiking in Spain’s Catalonia region. Hard-hit airlines relying on those flights to stay afloat are angry at measures they see as overly broad.
“We are disappointed that the government has decided to impose a quarantine requirement for those traveling from the whole of Spain since the increased occurrence of coronavirus is regional rather than nationwide,” EasyJet Plc said in a statement Sunday. The decision “throws thousands of Britons’ travel plans into chaos.”
British Airways said it’s “yet another blow for British holidaymakers and cannot fail to have an impact on an already troubled aviation industry.” The “uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break,” Andrew Flintham, managing director at TUI AG’s UK and Irish operations, said in a statement.
Ryanair Holdings Plc called the new rule “regrettable.” Europe’s biggest discount carrier on Monday posted a 185 million-euro ($217 million) quarterly loss and said a potential second wave is the company’s biggest fear.
“There are going to be localized breakouts in my view across Europe,” Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said in an interview. “You’re going to see areas opening up, areas closing down and that’s where flexibility is going to be hugely important for ourselves and other airlines.”
Ryanair Says Second Virus Wave Is Worst Fear as Losses Mount
Applying rules to an entire country rather than specific regions is unnecessary, said Manchester Airports Group Chief Executive Officer Charlie Cornish.
The British order will have an impact on Spanish-bound airlines and will dent “broader short-haul travel momentum, which until now (at least on the continent) appeared to be enjoying momentum into August,” Citigroup Inc. said in a research note.
After the move, Spain is now focusing on damage control. Gonzalez Laya said the country is working with the UK government to create air corridors for tourists to the Balearic Islands, home to the popular vacation destinations of Ibiza and Mallorca, as well as the Canary islands.