LONDON — Concerns over a “second wave” of coronavirus infections brought on by returning vacationers are wreaking havoc across Europe’s tourism industry, particularly in Spain, following Britain’s effective ban on travel to the country.
In a move that reflects the continent’s piecemeal approach to keeping the virus at bay, the British government has recommended against all but essential travel to the whole of Spain following an upswing in new infections.
As part of the new stricter approach to travel to the country, all travelers arriving in Britain from that country will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
“I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday in defending his government’s new travel advice.
“I’m afraid if we do see signs of a second wave in other countries, it is really our job, our duty, to act swiftly and decisively,” he added.
The move has not only dashed the hopes of many British holidaymakers for a getaway this summer, but also fanned renewed uncertainty within Europe’s tourism industry over how to plan ahead amid authorities’ responses to new COVID-19 outbreaks.
Johnson indicated that there could be further changes to the government’s travel advice for other holiday destinations in Europe.
Germany also tightened its travel advice for Spain, but did not go as far as the U.K. Instead, it is advising against travel to the northeastern regions of Catalonia, Aragón, and Navarra.
The head of Germany’s national disease control center also warned of “really, really worrying” developments over the last two weeks amid a resurgence of virus outbreaks.
Robert Koch Institute chief Lothar Wieler pointed to “a lot of small outbreaks in various places at the same time” that are becoming more frequent.
Wieler urged his country’s citizens not to let their guard down and to stick to social distancing, hygiene and mask-wearing rules that “must never be questioned,” after new studies showed that people have become more complacent about COVID-19.
“We don’t know if this is the beginning of a second wave, but of course it could be. It would begin with rising figures,” Wieler said. “If we all keep to these rules, I am still optimistic that we can prevent this.”
Britain’s new travel advice prompted holiday companies TUI UK and Jet2 to suspend flights to Spain, which is traditionally the most popular summer destination for British vacationers.
“The U.K. government must work closely with the travel industry as this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break,” TUI UK said in a statement.
The U.K. has the highest official coronavirus death toll in Europe, with nearly 46,000 deaths. One of the reasons cited for that is that many travelers brought the virus back during the February school break after skiing trips in France, Italy and Spain.
Professor Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham said it makes sense to advise against travel to Spain during the summer holiday season.
“Some people have criticized the lack of notice, but with cases rising any delay would only increase cases in the U.K,” he added.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called the new recommendation “a mistake,” saying that the upsurge in new COVID-19 cases is only focused in the regions of Catalonia and Aragón, and is much less severe than the number of cases reported in the U.K.
Sanchez spoke as figures were released showing that his country lost more than a million jobs in the second quarter of this year. Spain’s official statistics agency INE said that most of the 1.07 million lost jobs were in the service sector, with the worst-hit areas being Catalonia, Andalusia and Madrid.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Ayala tried to strike a conciliatory tone, saying that Madrid is trying to get the British government to concentrate on the scientific data, since the outbreaks are contained in specific areas within Spain, while coronavirus infection rates on the country’s vacation islands are much lower than in the U.K.
Spain is still in talks with the British government, “trying to find a solution which meets epidemiological criteria,” Ayala told a press conference in Athens during an official visit to Greece Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Madrid’s regional government made the use of face masks mandatory in all public areas and limited the number of people that can gather in one place, part of a drive to curb new coronavirus outbreaks.
Regional government head Isabel Díaz Ayuso said that no more than 10 people can be present at private gatherings, while nightlife venues must close their doors at 1 a.m. — early by Spanish standards.
Díaz Ayuso said an information campaign will focus on young people, who are largely blamed for spreading the coronavirus through their social life. She said young people “have it in their hands to reverse the trend.”
Anyone caught drinking a beer in the street in Barcelona or elsewhere in the Catalonia region could be fined a maximum of $17,600.
The new measure coming into effect Tuesday aimed to crack down on street parties mostly frequented by young people.
Britain’s travel advice comes on the heels of similar decisions by other European governments, including Norway, which ordered a 10-day quarantine for people returning from the entire Iberian peninsula, and France, which urged its citizens not to visit Catalonia.
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