Ministers were told to get a grip on summer holiday ‘confusion’ after the Balearic and Canary islands were added to the list of places where only essential travel should take place.
Holiday firms and the opposition urged the Government to bring more clarity to the situation as travel companies cancelled flights.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all non-essential travel to the Spanish holiday islands following a Covid-19 upsurge in some parts of mainland Spain.
The move brought the FCO advice into line with existing advice for mainland Spain and with the UK Goverment’s decision to impose a 14-day quarantine requirement on people arriving from the whole of the country.
But the quarantine policy has been criticised by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who described it as an “error”
Mr Sanchez pointed out that the upsurge in coronavirus cases is focused in two regions, Catalonia and Aragon, adding: “In most of Spain, the incidence is very much inferior to even the numbers registered in the United Kingdom.”
Britons make up over a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies heavily on tourism, and Madrid has said the UK government gave it no warning that the quarantine move was coming last weekend.
Travel firm TUI UK cancelled all holidays to the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands after the FCO’s updated travel advice.
TUI’s decision runs from Tuesday July 28 up to and including Friday July 31. Holidays to Spain’s mainland were were already cancelled from Sunday July 26 up to and including Sunday August 9.
“All customers due to travel to Spanish destinations between Sunday July 26 and Sunday August 9 will be able to cancel or amend their holiday and will be able to receive a full refund or the option to rebook their holiday with a booking incentive,” TUI UK said.
The company added: “The UK Government must work closely with the travel industry as this level of uncertainty and confusion is damaging for business and disappointing for those looking forward to a well-deserved break.”
Jet2 also said that it was cancelling flights to a raft of destinations in Spain from Tuesday after the FCO announcement.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “This is the third announcement we’ve heard from the Government regarding travel to Spain in the last three days. Hundreds of thousands of UK holidaymakers in Spain or about to fly are utterly confused.”
Labour said the Government must abandon its one-size-fits-all approach and introduce sectoral support for struggling businesses to ensure that public health measures like the change in quarantine rules for people returning from Spain do not lead to mass job losses.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government’s handling of this issue has been nothing short of chaotic. The airline industry and passengers need clarity.
“The Government must focus support on the sectors that desperately need it, like aviation, aerospace and its supply chain, which supports almost a quarter of a million jobs, with strict climate conditions and ensuring the gains are shared with the public.”
The announcement of the Government’s new Spanish travel warnings came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said decisions on border measures and travel advice “can be changed rapidly if necessary to help stop the spread of the disease”.
He went on: “Unfortunately no travel is risk-free during this pandemic and disruption is possible and so anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list is under constant review as we monitor the international situation.”
The announcement happened amid fears more European holidays could be thrown into disarray this summer with reports of potential new coronavirus lockdowns in France and Germany.
Meanwhile, the Government has refused to comment on reports that quarantine for people arriving from Spain or other countries with high coronavirus levels could be cut to ten days under plans being looked at by ministers.
Returned travellers would need to quarantine for eight days before being tested, and then only remain in quarantine for another two days should they test negative.
The paper reports the Government is also considering instructing everyone who has returned from Spain since July 23 to get tested.