Over the weekend there was enormous uproar about the Government’s decision to apply a 14-day quarantine rule to tourists returning from Spain. It did this at extremely short notice, throwing into disarray the holiday plans of approximately 1.8 million people, many of whom also had the added complication of worrying about their workplace rights.
The decision to impose the rule was instigated by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, who warned that rising cases in Spain were “statistically significant”, having risen by 6,355 since Friday. Thus the Government felt compelled to act quickly.
On Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dominic Raab defended the move, saying that a “real time response” was right, and anything else would “muddy the waters”.
This has, of course, not gone down well in Spain, whose tourism industry is highly contingent upon an influx of Brits. Pedro Sánchez, its prime minister, criticised the restrictions, saying that “64.5 per cent of the new cases registered are in two territories” and that in most of the country the prevalence of Covid-10 was “very much inferior to the numbers registered in the United Kingdom”.
Indeed, it is mainly Catalonia in the north-east and nearby Aragón that have seen spikes in infections. Either way, the rate of the infection for the country now stands at 35.1 cases per 100,000, compared to the UK which stands at 14.7 (according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), hence the newfound concern.
It’s not only the Spanish prime minister who is unhappy about the news, but the travel industry too, which will struggle immensely as a result of the uncertainty it creates.
It has already been reported that large numbers of trips to France, Italy and Greece have since been cancelled, a trend which is likely to grow after Boris Johnson warned today of a second wave across Europe.
The decision could inadvertently exacerbate social inequalities, which the Coronavirus crisis has already highlighted, as those in low-paid, on-site jobs, will be unable to self-isolate versus, say, bankers working from home.
The Government has said that they will be offered universal credit to those whose income is impacted, but the practical implications of being off work for two weeks is not always something the state can mitigate. Furthermore, it could be said that the Government’s move contradicts its own desire to get people back to work on August 1, given all the risks involved.
Although the guidelines will put a dent in many holiday plans, there is some good news at least. According to The Telegraph, ministers are trying to cut the quarantine time for those coming back from Spain to ten days. This move will presumably be extended to other destinations – all the more important as countries such as France and Germany have also seen rises in Coronavirus cases.
Ministers want to reduce the quarantine time by testing arrivals from high-risk countries eight days after they land (Coronavirus takes five to seven days to incubate). If they test negative they will be allowed to come out of self-isolation two days later. This plan should cut almost a working week off the self-isolation period, and as scientists’ understanding and ability to test Coronavirus, hopefully these testing plans can go even further.
One thing that is also worth pondering is whether the risk of quarantine rules were inevitable, too, given that countries are now much more effective at testing. Fears about a second wave may be exacerbated by the fact that governments can better detect the virus now.
Though there is anger at the Government, Raab was right to say that advanced notice of the Spanish quarantine would have caused confusion in the travel industry (though it has happened as a result of the decision too).
Part of the Government’s fast response to what was happening in Spain reflects what happened at the beginning of the UK’s Coronavirus outbreak. A study by researchers at Oxford and Edinburgh University has found that most cases in the UK could be traced back to Spain (34 per cent), France (29 per cent) and Italy (14 per cent), as opposed to China.
So it could be said that there is a “once bitten twice shy” element to the newly imposed quarantine. And had the Government not done anything, it would no doubt be accused of callousness by the usual armchair epidemiologists.
As for what happens next in travel? Like much of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s anyone’s guess.