UK urged to refine quarantine plans after Spain criticism

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A woman sunbathes on the beach as an airplane lands at the Balearic Islands capital of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Concerns over a new wave of coronavirus infections brought on by returning vacationers are wreaking havoc across Spain's tourism industry, particularly in the Balearic Islands following Britain's effective ban on travel to the country. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu

LONDON – The British government came under renewed pressure Wednesday to refine its travel policies following criticism of its sudden decision to remove Spain from its safe list, a sudden change that has upended many vacation plans and rocked the ailing travel industry.

While London Heathrow Airport urged a ramp-up in coronavirus testing and the U.K.'s biggest tour operator recommended a more regional approach to quarantining, Culture Minister Oliver Dowden downplayed the prospects for any change, arguing there was “no viable alternative.”

Heathrow's chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said he wants the 14-day self-isolation requirement to be eased for people arriving from countries not on the government’s exemption list — should they test negative for the virus on arrival as well as some days after.

“The U.K. needs a passenger testing regime and fast,” he said Wednesday alongside half-year results showing the airport reporting a pretax loss of 1.1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion). “Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.”

His suggestion follows another hugely difficult few days for anyone connected with travel abroad following the decision to remove Spain from the list of countries where quarantine-free travel was permitted.

The change has thrown into turmoil the plans of many British families currently in Spain or due to fly there this summer. It's also another blow to the travel industry, which is trying to salvage something from the summer.

Spain is traditionally the number one holiday destination for Britons — 18 million or so made the trip in 2019 — and resorts like those on the Costa del Sol or on the Balearic island of Mallorca are hugely reliant on tourism from the U.K.

Though the U.K. has the highest official coronavirus-related death toll in Europe at nearly 46,000, new daily infections are stable around the 700 mark. Spain, which also suffered badly during the pandemic with more than confirmed 28,000 deaths, has seen a spike in infections over the past week or two toward a 7-day rolling average of around 1,900 a day.