Britons returning from Spain will be required to self-isolate for two weeks after the country has seen a spike in cases in three of its regions.
“Spain has been removed from the list of countries where people do not have to self-isolate when arriving into to the UK,” the government said in a statement on Saturday night.
It also advised “against all but essential travel to mainland Spain”.
And government officials confirmed that Grant Shapps, UK transport secretary, was among those on holiday in Spain.
The removal of Spain from the “travel corridors exemption list” comes as it struggles with a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The country is the most popular tourist destination for Britons, with about 18m visiting last year.
From midnight on Sunday those returning from Spain will need to enter a 14-day self-isolation period, which demands people remain at home, with even local walks prohibited.
Spain has been one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic, with more than 28,400 people having died due to the virus. Catalonia was the second-most affected region, after Madrid, and is now facing the highest number of new infections.
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Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “The news will be deeply concerning for families who are caught in Spain or are planning travel — the government needs to come forward now with full details of how people affected will be supported.”
Public Health England said on Friday it was monitoring “recent reports of substantial increases” in Covid-19 cases in Aragón and Catalonia, which include the cities of Zaragoza and Barcelona. Galicia is another region with an accelerated increase in cases.
The order comes a day after Paris recommended French citizens avoid travel to Catalonia, and Norway announced a 10-day quarantine requirement for travellers coming from Spain, effective Saturday.
Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, “strongly” recommended French travellers avoid Catalonia “until the health situation improves”. The northeastern Spanish region has been the site of Spain’s two largest outbreaks, around Barcelona and in the agricultural region of Segrià.
The move by the UK is potentially the most damaging to Spain’s already battered economy. Tourism accounted for 11.7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019. The European Commission expects Spanish GDP to drop by almost 11 per cent in 2020, the second-biggest drop in the EU after Italy.
Spain’s health ministry on Friday announced 922 new infections diagnosed in the past 24 hours, a slight drop from Thursday but still at the highest level since early May. Madrid does not announce daily numbers at the weekend.
On Friday, Arancha González Laya, Spanish foreign minister, insisted the country was safe for visitors. In a television interview she said that while Spain had outbreaks, “the governments, both national and regional, are working to isolate cases as soon as they appear, trace the contacts and make sure we treat them”.
Also on Friday, Britain added five countries to its list that spares returning visitors from a 14-day quarantine but kept Portugal, Brazil, Sweden, Russia and the US off the list.
Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Caribbean archipelago of St Vincent and the Grenadines have been added to the list of more than 70 “travel corridors”, while Serbia was removed from the list with effect from July 11. The changes would take effect in England from July 28, the UK government said.