Spain is scrambling to stay ahead of new outbreaks of the coronavirus that prompted the UK to impose a quarantine on travelers returning from the country, dealing a new blow to its tourism-dependent economy.
Only weeks after the UK included Spain on a list of countries safe for summer holidays, the UK government reversed course and announced late Saturday it would impose a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from Spain. The move came after cases in the country jumped, particularly in the Catalonia region, where authorities are racing to stamp out new outbreaks.
Norway on Friday announced a 10-day quarantine for people returning from Spain, and France issued new travel warnings for the Catalonia region, which is home to Barcelona and popular beaches.
The moves will further weigh on bookings in the peak travel period for a country that depends on tourism for more than 10% of GDP.
Europe’s hardest-hit country, Britain, reopened pubs and is now finding spikes in virus cases. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who aims to return to “significant normality” by Christmas, on Friday said his government is preparing the health service for a second wave of infections over the winter.
Populations across Europe have already shown they are restless. Spain had a similar trajectory to Italy and in Madrid the resentment spilled into the streets. In Serbia, a jump in cases prompted President Aleksandar Vucic, just re-elected in a landslide, to try and impose another curfew only for him to reverse course in the face of violent protests.
The situation is so desperate in Croatia, which relies on tourism more than any other country in the EU, that it pivoted from lockdown mode to embracing the Swedish model that allows bars and shops to stay open and there is no limit to size of public gatherings.
However, Catalonia in northeastern Spain is at the epicentre of a new jump in cases and has been expanding restrictions to try to flatten the curve. In Barcelona, nightclubs have been ordered shut for two weeks and imposed there is a midnight curfew on bars.
A partial lockdown affecting 200,000 people has been already imposed in the western district of Segria.
The World Travel & Tourism Council called the UK decision a “bitter blow” for travelers and said local lockdowns, not broader travel restrictions would be a better solution. Tui, the UK’s biggest tour operator, suspended all its flights from Spain and the Canary Islands that were due to leave on Sunday.
“Painting an entire country with the same brush does not benefit anyone. While we understand the concern about destinations like Spain with new Covid-19 cases, the majority of the country and its islands, which are incredibly popular holiday destinations, have less cases than the UK,” the tourism group said.
Spain was one of the hardest hit countries in Europe by the coronavirus and has already suffered more than 28,000 fatalities, the fourth-highest tally in Europe after the UK, Italy, and France.
A national lockdown started in March had largely tamed the spread of Covid-19, but the easing of those restrictions and the start of the summer tourism season has contributed to an uptick, particularly among young people frequenting crowded bars and clubs.
Countries around the Mediterranean Sea were praying that a glimpse of tourism would get them through the summer before the cold snap drives people indoors and ushers in a second chapter to the pandemic.
Now, it appears the spread of the virus may not wait for the winter months.
Governments across the globe have been bracing for a second wave, though there is little appetite for reimposing large scale lockdowns on already crippled economies.
The hope is that localising quarantines to towns, cities, and regions will be enough to snuff out bouts of infections as they come.
Italy was the first Western democracy to quarantine the entire population as it became apparent its death toll was going to overtake that of China, where the virus originated. A person close to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described that decision as “shock therapy” that can’t be repeated.
The euro’s weakest economy this week became the biggest beneficiary of the EU's €750bn rescue package.