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‘Spain is a safe country’: Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?

The UK government's decision to remove Spain from a "safe" travel list, meaning returning holidaymakers face two weeks in self-isolation has caused anger and confusion in Spain where the tourism industry is already struggling.

'Spain is a safe country': Did the UK really need to impose blanket quarantine on travellers?
AFP

“This decision is an absolute disaster for the recovery, there’s no other way to see this,” Angel Talavera, head of European Economics at Oxford Economics consulting, said on Twitter, referring to the British government's snap decision on Saturday. 

The government announced that from 11pm on Saturday anyone travelling from Spain, including returning holidaymakers, would have to self-isolate for two weeks.

That meant returning holidaymakers faced being unable to go back to work or see family members on their return.

London also advised against non-essential travel to mainland Spain.

The UK government insists the move was motivated by the need to prioritize public health. 

“We have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK. We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary,” a spokesman from the Department for Transport told the BBC.

The reaction from the Spanish government has so far been fairly muted.

When asked about the British government's decision to re-impose quarantine, a spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry said: “The government of Spain considers that the situation is under control. The outbreaks are localised, isolated and controlled. Spain is a safe country. We respect the decision of the UK government and we are in touch with them.” 

Apart from being a blow to the struggling Spanish tourism industry, which depends heavily on the millions British tourists who visit each year, the move has been met with some consternation in Spain where officials have insisted outbreaks are under control.

There's no doubt the number of cases of coronavirus have been on the rise in recent weeks.

Last Monday Spanish health officials reported that the infection rate had tripled in just over two weeks, from 8,76 per 100,000 inhabitants on July 3rd to 27,39 per 100,000 in recent days.

Albeit the pressure on hospitals remains low, according to officials.

On Friday Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that data from 10 regions showed a rise in cases and hospital admissions.

While many of the 283 active outbreaks were small and could be controlled the overall pattern is one of rising cases, the newspaper said.

But experts say the resurgence is partly due to people relaxing and not sticking to social distancing guidelines, but also due to greater testing capacity resulting in more positive cases being detected.

Catalonia has been affected and forced authorities to ask four million residents in Barcelona to stay at home. The north-eastern provinces of Lleida and Huesca have also seen spikes.

On Saturday Catalan authorities ordered nightclubs to close for two weeks and imposed curbs on bars and restaurants with young people and revellers being blamed for the spike in cases.

The regions of Aragon and Navarre have also seen spikes in cases.

But some parts of the country have been less affected by the resurgence including the southern region of Andalusia and the Balearic and Canary islands.

The fact that the UK government said it was not advising against travel to the Balearic or Canary islands, but would still impose quarantine on travellers returning from those regions, has understandably caused confusion.

Regional authorities in the Canary and Balearic Islands say they would try to get an exemption from the quarantine for people travelling back from the archipelagos.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, the foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said Spain was one of the countries with the “most controls and mechanisms for identifying outbreaks”.

She dismissed suggestions of a second wave of Covid-19. “We’re not worried; we’re identifying cases and isolating them to cut off transmission,” she said.

“As long as we don’t have a vaccine or a treatment, this is what the new normality will be like. We ask citizens to comply with the restrictions and behave in a responsible manner. There isn’t a second outbreak but there are one-off outbreaks.”

The UK's decision has been met with surprise and dismay among British residents and tourists in Spain.

Michelle Baker, editor of the Round Town Times newspaper in Benidorm told The Guardian: “It's so unfair, we're all wearing masks here and there are only 14 cases on the whole of Alicante. The outbreaks are nowhere near here.”

Some British tourists also lamented the quarantine decision saying they felt safer in Spain than the UK.

“We’re quite frustrated by it to be honest, because it actually feels safer in Spain,” British tourist Carolyne Lansell told Reuters.

Rachel Pinnington, on holiday in Los Alcazares, Murcia said: “It feels perfectly safe here. It feels like a knee-jerk reaction by the government. Everyone is wearing masks. It's uncomfortable in the heat but I feel safe.”

In a bid to prevent new outbreaks fifteen out of Spain's 17 autonomous communities have now made face masks compulsory in all indoor and outdoor public spaces. Only Madrid and the Canary islands are not imposing the rule.

The central government, which insists that this is not a “second wave”, considers that the regions have sufficient tools to control the epidemic.

It has also ruled out the possibility of a new state of emergency, which allowed Madrid to impose a strict lockdown in mid-March which was not completely lifted until June 21.

The UK government has also come in for criticism back home.

“I can understand why the government have made this decision … but of course the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” said the Labour Party’s health policy chief, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking to Sky News.

Other countries have advised against travel to particularly regions in Spain with the French government urging its citizens not to travel to Catalonia. However it has not imposed any quarantine against returning travellers from Spain.

 

 

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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