The celebrations have barely lasted three weeks. The United Kingdom government on Wednesday announced that it was removing Spain’s Balearic Islands from its “green” list for travel, and is putting it back on “amber.” The decision, based on the rising incidence of coronavirus cases on the islands, has caused irritation within the tourism sector, because once again it will cause travel problems for some United Kingdom nationals seeking to reach one of their favorite vacation destinations.
This time around, however, the move is softened by the fact that the UK authorities will allow those returning from Spain to avoid quarantine if they are fully vaccinated. Britain’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced on Wednesday that these new restrictions will go into force from 4am on Monday, July 19.
The decision affects residents of England. Devolved powers over healthcare in the UK mean that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own rules. However, Wales and Scotland have already announced that they will follow suit, and Northern Ireland is likely to do the same.
Around 200,000 UK nationals are currently on the islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, after the Balearics were placed on the green travel list on June 30. Many of those there are aged between 18 and 30, meaning that they will be yet to have received their two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine – the requirement the British government has put in place to avoid the 10-day quarantine on return.
“The policy implemented by the government needs to change,” complained Paul Charles, from the PC travel agency. “It is not at all useful for the consumer if the color of a country is changed in barely two weeks. This traffic light system is not working.” He was expressing the confusion and irritation of the sector in the face of the U-turns of the government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, something that has already been seen with Portugal, which was placed on the green list only to be removed shortly after.
A spokesperson from the Department of Transport explained that from the start the Balearics had been placed on green but was still on the watchlist, meaning that the status could change at any time. Since then, the UK government has stated, the number of infections in the Balearic Islands has doubled – on Wednesday, the cumulative incidence per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days had reached 408, compared to the national average of 469. Among the other changes made by the UK, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been placed on the green list for English travelers.
Rumors had abounded about the removal of the Balearics from the green list due to the reputational damage caused by a recent mass outbreak there among students on end-of-term trips, and the general rise in infections. However, the expected impact is likely to be limited, according to the Spanish tourism sector, given that UK travelers who have had both Covid-19 vaccine jabs will be able to avoid the 10-day quarantine on their return, as will minors. This means that the majority of the population will be able to take a vacation in all of Spain without major restrictions. “It’s as if [Spain] were on the green list because [the rules] don’t apply to minors and 66% of adults [in the UK] are now fully vaccinated,” explained on Monday the British ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliot.
The decision does, however, have a negative effect on the image of the Balearics and Spain as a safe destination. France and Germany have also recently advised against travel to Spain given the increase in infections, spurred by the spread of the more contagious delta variant. According to the Exceltur travel association, this has not had an effect on cancellations, but it has slowed down sales of vacations by 20%.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is giving the majority of its population a break by allowing the fully vaccinated to travel to certain countries without the need for quarantine upon return. It’s a lifeline for the key Spanish tourist industry, which is still being cautious given that it is not yet experiencing the much-hoped-for boom in reservations now that the vaccination drive is progressing across Europe. This caution is also due to the worsening situation both in Spain and the UK, with coronavirus infections rising sharply once more. If the situation continues to head in the wrong direction, the restrictions imposed in recent months will return once more – a scenario that no one wants to think about right now.
English version by Simon Hunter.