Hundreds of thousands of British tourists and expats are stranded in Spain today after the country entered an unprecedented two-week lockdown.
Panicked holidaymakers were last night scrambling to escape after the Spanish government declared a state of emergency over coronavirus.
The drastic action came as the country’s death toll from the outbreak more than doubled overnight to 288 yesterday and the number of infections soared by a third to 7,753.
Last night, city streets and beaches fell eerily silent as Spain’s 47million citizens hunkered down in their homes and tourists were forced to stay in their hotels.
Thousands of British tourists have been left trying to escape Spain today after the Spanish government declared a state of emergency over coronavirus. Pictured: Brits Denis Couzens and wife Margaret who are on lockdown in a caravan site near the Costa del Sol resort of Estepona
It comes after the Spanish government declared the country would be entering an unprecedented two-week lockdown. (Stock image)
Pictured: A police officer halts tourists in Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain, as the government declares a state of emergency
On the Costa del Sol, home to 50,000 British expats, police in face masks and latex gloves patrolled beaches with megaphones, warning of prison time and on-the-spot fines of up to £25,000 for anyone caught breaching the lockdown.
Retired British fireman Denis Couzens and his wife Margaret are staying on a caravan site near the Costa del Sol resort of Estepona.
They arrived on January 8 after driving through France from their home in Kent, and had been due to stay until April 1 – but now face an anxious two-weeks under lockdown.
Mr Couzens, 70, said: ‘I take medication for a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which could be linked to my years as a firefighter so I’m in the risk category… we’re probably not going to take the risk of leaving to try to get home if things are still so volatile.
‘There’s a good 150 holidaymakers on the site at the moment and around 70 per cent of them are British. Most are in their sixties and seventies.’
In Madrid, shoppers kept a distance from each other as they formed an orderly queue outside a supermarket.
A security guard in a face mask let them in two by two. Children’s playgrounds in the Spanish capital were cordoned off with police tape, and in Benidorm, baton-wielding police officers ordered British revellers back to their hotels.
The emergency measures mean all shops, restaurants, bars and cafes have been closed, but supermarkets and pharmacies are open for essential visits only.
Spain is the UK’s most popular holiday destination and welcomes 20million Britons a year. It is also home to 300,000 British expats, many of them elderly.
Pictured: British tourist Julia Spencer, 52, from Saddleworth, Manchester, is a Jet2 holidaymaker stuck in Tenerife until Tuesday
Panic spread through resorts over the weekend as airlines including EasyJet, TUI, Jet2 and Ryanair cancelled flights to and from the mainland, the Balearics and the Canary Islands.
Airlines such as Jet2 are flying empty planes to Spain over the next few days to repatriate holidaymakers on a handful of ‘rescue flights’.
EasyJet has warned seats for its rescue flights will be sold on a ‘first-come-first-served’ basis.
Julia Spencer, 52, from Saddleworth, near Manchester, flew Jet2 on Friday for an all-inclusive four-day holiday on Tenerife’s five-star Sandos San Blas Nature Resort.
Mrs Spencer, who is holidaying with a friend, said: ‘There are hundreds of British tourists here and most of us are really panicked.
‘We have no idea what’s going on. The hotel reception say that once the lockdown comes into force, we won’t be able to leave the hotel for any reason other than to visit a pharmacy. But we’ve had nothing official from anyone.
Pictured: A tourist is stopped in Las Ramblas on March 15, as the Spanish government steps up its quarantine rules
‘There are lots of scary rumours going round. One of the bar staff said we could get a 500 euro fine if we leave the hotel. We are in a fortunate position because our holiday is all-inclusive and we’ve been told our flight home on Tuesday is going ahead as planned.’
In the same hotel is Mike Vidler, 69, of West Sussex. He said: ‘I am pretty sure that if I got coronavirus, I would find it very difficult. I have had MS for 41 years and I have type 2 diabetes.
‘There are a lot of people worried here but we’re just carrying on with our holidays as normal and trying not to panic too much.’
The Foreign Office, which is advising against ‘all but essential’ travel to Spain, is urging holidaymakers to follow the advice of local police.
Your travel questions answered
The Foreign Office has warned against all but essential travel to Spain. Airlines have cancelled flights to and from mainland Spain, the Balearics and Canary Islands.
I’m in Spain, can I fly home?
Yes. Airlines are offering ‘rescue’ flights to repatriate holidaymakers and expats but demand will be high.
EasyJet passengers are advised to book online or go to the airport as early as possible on the day you want to travel.
Jet2 plans to fly empty planes to Spain until March 21. Those due to return in the next week can board their scheduled flight home. TUI will contact holidaymakers with new leaving dates. Ryanair is still running a small number of flights.
Can I drive back from Spain?
This is risky as France is also under lockdown. Rental firms, service stations and toll booths may be shut.
What about a ferry?
You cannot sail home from Spain. Brittany Ferries has suspended all sailings to and from Bilbao and Santander until at least April 9. The last one goes this afternoon.
I am due to fly to Spain. Will my holiday be cancelled?
If you are due to go in the next two weeks, your flight and holiday are likely to be axed. Your airline or travel firm should be in touch to offer a refund or re-booking.
Will I get my money back if my trip is axed?
If your flight is cancelled, your airline will offer a refund or a re-booking. If you booked through a travel agent or tour operator, they should organise a refund or alternative travel. If you booked accommodation separately, contact the provider to see if they will refund you.
Your travel insurance may cover it if you have a policy for consequential losses.
What if I want to pull out of a holiday I have booked?
You will struggle to make a claim unless the Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel. If you have a trip to Spain or Italy, it is likely insurers will deal with requests on a case-by-case basis. Tell them about any health conditions.
Can I insure against virus?
Unlikely as this is becoming very hard.