Balearic officials urge Madrid to tighten Covid controls on UK tourists
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has rejected calls from Angela Merkel for British tourists to be quarantined on arrival in the EU, raising hopes that tighter restrictions in Europe will not prove terminal to summer holiday plans.
By contrast in the Balearic Islands, authorities asked Spain’s central government to tighten controls for holidaymakers from the UK.
The high level of infection in the UK of the Delta Covid variant has prompted concerns in EU capitals about the impact of British tourists, prompting the German chancellor at a summit in Brussels to call for a common quarantine rule.
But Mitsotakis, whose economy is highly dependent on tourism, said the solution to the threat of the Delta variant was to speed up the pace of vaccination in the EU rather than deter tourism by imposing quarantine requirements. Travellers from the UK must isolate for 14 days on arrival in Germany.
Speaking at the end of the EU summit, Mitsotakis said: “Regarding the Delta variant, in my intervention I said that we should not adopt a logic of new restrictions but, on the contrary, accelerate the vaccinations … as I said yesterday, those who have been vaccinated are protected, those who have not been vaccinated are in danger.”
Borders policy remains a national responsibility, with Brussels providing only recommendations to member states. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said he did not expect a uniform approach in the coming weeks.
“At the end that is up to the individual member states to take those decisions. We see some differences now, for example Malta and Spain, being a bit more lenient, maybe some other member states but that’s up to them, they can do that,” he said.
There nevertheless remains a high degree of unpredictability for holidaymakers coming from the UK given the recognition in EU capitals that a relatively low level of full vaccination makes the bloc vulnerable to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
More stringent testing requirements are likely to be imposed in some countries and many will focus on allowing access primarily to those fully vaccinated.
On Friday, the authorities in the Balearic Islands – the only Spanish region on the UK’s green list for quarantine-free travel after being added on Thursday – asked Spain’s central government to tighten controls for holidaymakers arriving from the UK.
Last month Spain began allowing in British travellers without the need to provide a negative Covid test. The move, aimed at wooing back some of the more than 18 million British tourists who visited annually in the years before the pandemic, contrasts with the growing push for tighter restrictions on UK tourists in the EU.
The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the Balearics were among the territories to be added to the UK’s green list as of next Wednesday, meaning travellers will not need to quarantine upon their return to the UK.
While the Balearic government welcomed the news, it called on Spain to fall in line with other EU countries in requiring UK tourists to present negative Covid tests or vaccination certificates.
“We’ve asked the Spanish government to establish controls for the arrival of people coming from the UK,” Iago Negueruela, the regional official in charge of the economy and tourism, said late on Thursday.
The sentiment was echoed by the region’s leader, Francina Armengol. “We’ve worked hard to get here and the state needs to protect the strong health situation in the Balearic Islands,” she tweeted. Spanish officials should set “strict and safe entry controls” for British tourists, she added.
The 14-day infection rate in the Balearics stands at 48 per 100,000 inhabitants. The green list status for the region was announced hours after the central government linked an outbreak of 400 coronavirus cases to Spanish students who had recently travelled to Mallorca.
In Malta, local media reported that despite the green list status, the country was set to allow only fully vaccinated British tourists to enter without quarantine. The Maltese government said the decision had been made in order to safeguard the health of residents and tourists in light of the variants being reported in the UK, according to the Times of Malta.
In France, fully vaccinated holidaymakers from the UK are allowed to enter without quarantine. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he supported further harmonisation of rules on UK travellers, without making any reference to a change in his government’s policy.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, appeared to signal that the coordination of EU policies would probably focus on less intrusive social distancing rules than all-out isolation.
She said: “We are worried about the Delta variant. If you look at the UK, there the Delta variant is by now the dominant, 90% of the infections are the Delta variant.
“It is rapidly progressing also speeding up here. The good news is that is that we see that the vaccination protects. Double vaccination protects very effectively against the Delta variant. And a single vaccination or single shot at the beginning, gives at least a reduction of severe illness.
“But with this Delta variant, we need to stay vigilant. We need to stay very coordinated while restrictive measures are concerned. The typical things like masks and distance have to stay in place. And we need to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate – that’s the best strategy against these variants.”
EasyJet said it had seen “a significant spike” in UK bookings for flights and holidays for the new destinations on the green list, within hours of the government announcement on Thursday evening. The airline put more than 50,000 additional seats on sale immediately to meet demand. It said the “momentum continues to be very positive” in its European operations, where travel has more widely reopened.
British Airways said it was reviewing its schedules and had added additional flights and larger planes on routes to Malta and the Balearics. It said searches on its website for green list destinations were more than five times higher on Thursday night than the week before, with searches for Menorca flights up by 1,700%.
Both airlines criticised the very limited additions to the green list, which easyJet said was “not justified by the data”, and “not the safe and sustainable reopening of travel the government promised”. BA said jobs were at risk, warning: “We cannot afford another missed summer.”
Ryanair hit out at the UK government for refusing to explain the scientific data behind the decision and urged the immediate addition of Cyprus, the Canaries and Greek islands to the list, and to immediately allow fully vaccinated citizens to travel to and from the EU without “unnecessary and useless” travel restrictions.