CORONAVIRUS

Spain suspends flights from the UK apart from those carrying Spaniards, Spanish residents

The move comes in the wake of the announcement by the British authorities of a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus identified in parts of the country

Passengers arriving in Madrid's Barajas airport on Monday.
Passengers arriving in Madrid's Barajas airport on Monday.FERNANDO VILLAR / EFE

Spain has decided to suspend flights arriving from the United Kingdom from Tuesday, apart from those carrying passengers who either have Spanish nationality or are residents in Spain, the Spanish government announced today.

The measure, which has also been adopted by Portugal, has been taken after a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus was identified in London and parts of the south of England by the UK authorities, prompting stricter lockdown measures in parts of the country and ruining the Christmas plans of many families.

As many as 23 European countries had already opted to suspend flights between their airports and the United Kingdom in a bid to prevent this new mutation of the coronavirus from reaching their territories. The Spanish government, however, had said on Sunday that it would await a decision from the European Union on a joint approach to travellers arriving from the United Kingdom before taking action.

Passengers arriving in Spanish airports are already required to have taken a PCR test or equivalent within 72 hours prior to arrival.

The decision to halt air travel from the UK will affect around 100 flights that land on Spanish territory every day, particularly in Málaga and the Canary Islands

Also on Monday, it emerged that the new strain of the coronavirus has been detected in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory located off the southern coast of Spain. The Spanish government has also announced that it will ramp up border controls with Gibraltar in the wake of this development. The Foreign Ministry said it has been told by Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo that all travelers coming into the British territory from the UK will have to produce a negative PCR test result, and that screening of the local population will increase.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said there are no reports so far of the new strain being present in Spain, although this “does not mean it can’t be here.” Speaking on Monday morning on the Catalan radio station Rac1, Illa said that the coronavirus vaccine is “effective” against the new mutation. Spain’s vaccination campaign is expected to begin on December 27.

The decision to halt air travel from the UK will affect around 100 flights that land on Spanish territory every day, particularly in Málaga and the Canary Islands. According to figures provided by Aena, the airport operator, average aircraft occupancy in November was a little over 100 people per flight.

Meanwhile, reinforced controls at the border with Gibraltar will affect thousands more. Before the pandemic, an estimated 30,000 people were crossing this line every day, including 15,000 cross-border workers. There are no estimates on how the coronavirus crisis has altered these numbers.

This latest travel restriction comes on top of stricter measures for the Christmas holidays announced late last week by several Spanish regions.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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