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.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, pictured, removed the air bridge with Spain with no advance notice, causing massive disruption for tens of thousands of Britons
Britons arriving back from Spain face £1,000 fines if they breach the quarantine
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.
Britons forced into quarantine will not be eligible for statutory sick pay despite being ordered to stay at home by the government
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.’
Transport secretary faces quarantine after Spanish visit
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps went ahead with a two-week family holiday in Spain despite being warned that a surge in cases meant he might have to quarantine on return, friends said last night.
He flew to southern Spain on Saturday morning, later dialling in to the meeting where ministers agreed to reimpose quarantine restrictions on Spain barely a fortnight after they were lifted. Mr Shapps was among a small group of ministers shown new Spanish data late on Friday night suggesting the number of cases had doubled in just two days.
A friend said: ‘If he had cancelled while letting others travel, people would rightly have said he was acting on inside information. He felt he didn’t have much choice but to press ahead.’
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.
Your travel questions answered
What is the new travel advice?
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against all non-essential travel – such as holidays – to mainland Spain. This does not apply to the Canary Islands or Balearic Islands, writes Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Editor.
What about quarantine?
Those returning from mainland Spain, plus the Canary Islands and Balearics, are now required to go into 14-day quarantine on return to the UK.
Why have the rules changed?
There has been a spike in cases around Barcelona, Zaragoza and Madrid.
Why are the Spanish islands included in the isolation rules?
It is not clear. The Spanish government and Britain’s travel trade body, ABTA, argues it is not necessary. They point out that infection rates on these islands are low. However, one British tourist tested positive in Lanzarote last week. British officials are concerned that if the islands were exempt, a loophole would allow Britons in Spain to fly home via Majorca and escape quarantine.
Will restrictions now be applied to other countries?
Fears of a second wave in Europe have created a risk of further restrictions. France, Belgium, Germany and Croatia have seen increases, but ministers say rule changes are not imminent. Sources said Belgium and Croatia are on the ‘watch list’. Hong Kong saw the highest daily new infections on Saturday – about 130. Other countries such as India, Romania and Bulgaria, where restrictions are already in place, are also seeing increases.
What are my refund rights?
If you have booked a package holiday in mainland Spain, your tour operator should cancel the holiday. You can then claim a full refund. There are no automatic cancellation and refund policies for the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands and some operators may not cancel. In these circumstances, families who choose to cancel will not be legally entitled to a refund. Some tour operators have suggested they may allow cancellations and refunds.
What if you book flights and accommodation separately?
There is no right to cancel and claim a refund when elements of holiday are booked separately, rather than as a package.
Can travellers cancel or get a refund on flights?
There is no automatic right to a cash refund. Ryanair, BA, easyJet, and Jet2 will continue to run their flights to Spanish airports. Travellers may be offered a voucher to the value of the ticket or a chance to rebook if they wish to cancel.
What about accommodation?
If a hotel or villa remains open and available, there is no legal right to cancel and get a refund. Some booking websites, such as Airbnb and Booking.com, do offer last-minute cancellation on some listings.
Will insurance policies cover flights and accommodation?
These are unlikely to be covered by travel insurance if the policy was bought after March 10, when most insurers removed cover for Covid-19-related cancellations.
What happens if Spain announces local lockdowns?
Tour operators will cancel holidays and you will be entitled to a full refund.
What are the rules for those returning from Spain?
Travellers arriving into England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland must all go into quarantine. They must fill in a form to provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days. They can be fined £100 for failing to fill in the form. One in five eligible passengers will be called or texted to check they are following the rules.
What are the penalties for those who ignore the rules?
A fine of up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and £480 in Scotland. Fines can rise to £5,000 for persistent offenders.
Are those in quarantine entitled to financial support?
No, they aren’t, and there is no automatic eligibility to statutory sick pay, unless they meet the conditions – for example, if they are displaying coronavirus symptoms.
Why did they leave it so late, travellers ask?
Holiday makers returning from Spain yesterday told of their frustration at having to quarantine.
One doctor learnt of the new rules three minutes after touching down in Malaga on Saturday – and opted to fly straight home yesterday because he couldn’t afford a fortnight off work on top of the holiday time he had booked.
Dr Andras Szigeti, who spent £600 on the trip to Malaga with his partner, had been looking forward to a break after working throughout lockdown. Instead after one night there he will have to self-isolate at home in Chelmsford, Essex, and return to work in two weeks.
Becki Gorman, 36, right from Blackley, Manchester, pictured with Keeley Gorman, left, and baby Mia, ought to have been returning to her job as a store manager today after 12 days in Benidorm but will now be at home on unpaid leave for a fortnight.
‘Since I am a private doctor and I am the main bread winner in the family, I cannot allow myself to lose half of my monthly salary,’ he told the BBC.
Dr Szigeti, whose LinkedIn profile says he is an optometrist for a high street optician, and his partner booked the trip as an alternative to visiting family in Hungary, which has imposed entry requirements for those arriving from the UK.
NHS worker Peter Anderson, 49, returning from Marbella, believes he would be eligible to go straight back to work but instead faces taking two weeks off because of his wife Gaynor’s home-based job.
‘My wife works for a self-catering holiday firm,’ he said ahead of flying from Malaga to Liverpool with his wife and son Thomas, six, before returning home to Windermere, Cumbria. ‘She won’t be in a position to do her job properly and keep an eye on a six-year-old running around the house. I’m going to have to take time off work to look after him.
‘Our son was supposed to be going to a kids’ club for three days this week and won’t be able to now. ’
British travellers expressed their disappointment because of the government’s decision to reintroduce quarantine
NHS worker Peter Anderson, 49, returning from Marbella, believes he would be eligible to go straight back to work but instead faces taking two weeks off because of his wife Gaynor’s home-based job
Mrs Anderson, 47, said: ‘We should have got more notice, 24 to 48 hours at least, so we could have had more time to sort out alternatives.’
Veterinary nurse Gemma Vilanova, 28, from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, was due to start a new job at a surgery today after visiting family near Barcelona. Instead, after flying back yesterday, she faces having to tell her employer that she can’t start for another fortnight.
‘Because I’m not a key worker, I’m going to have to quarantine,’ she said. ‘It is just unnecessary hassle.’ She said she saw little evidence that immigration staff were checking that arriving passengers had complied with the requirement to register where they planned to self-isolate, adding: ‘The safety measures aren’t very strict.’
Becki Gorman, 36, from Blackley, Manchester, ought to have been returning to her job as a store manager today after 12 days in Benidorm but will now be at home on unpaid leave for a fortnight.
‘We were having a meal in a restaurant when we found out,’ she said. ‘I tried to change the flights but the only one I could find landed just after midnight so it was pointless. There is no way we’d have gone if we then had to spend 14 days at home. This doesn’t help anyone.’
Summer 2020 is turning into a chilling one
BY MARK PALMER, TRAVEL EDITOR
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.