Holidaymakers have been warned they must accept there is a risk they will be asked to self-isolate upon their return if they choose to holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.
Simon Clarke, minister for regional growth and local government, told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday (28 July) the government reserved the right to take decisive action to "keep the British public safe".
It comes after the government revoked Spain’s travel corridor at midnight on Saturday into Sunday with just a few hours notice, effectively reimposing a two-week self-isolation requirement for those arriving from Spain – just over three weeks after quarantine-free travel to and from the UK’s foremost holiday destination resumed.
The Foreign Office has since advised against all but essential travel to all of Spain, the mainland and its islands – the Balearics and the Canaries.
Clarke said holidaymakers must be aware they are travelling at a time when there is a possibility the travel advice and rules for their destination could change while they are overseas.
On the Foreign Office’s decision on Monday afternoon (27 July) to extend its advisory against all non-essential to mainland Spain to its islands as well, Clarke said the move was based on advice from the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre following a surge in cases in Spain, which the country says it has under control.
While it marked the third change in the government’s stance on travel to Spain, and its islands, in so many days, Clarke played down a suggestion by presenter Louise Minchin ministers had created unnecessary confusion and disruption with its inconsistency.
"The reality is, people travelling abroad at the moment have to accept there is a degree of uncertainty," said Clarke. "As the situation changes on the ground, we have to reserve the right to take action to keep the British public safe. That’s what we’ve done in the case of Spain.
"I think we’d have faced equally strong as strong criticism had we done anything else – if we had failed to take these steps, we’d have been accused of inaction if the face of a growing health crisis. It is important to remember we are doing this because on the balance of medical opinion, it is the right thing to do."
When pressed on whether all holidays were effectively "under threat", Clarke reiterated: "All holidays have to be taken understanding that foreign travel in the middle of a global pandemic, which has caused devastation across the world, has to be conducted against the backdrop of the government’s right to take steps to protect the UK."
He said the government could not jeopardise the "enormous strides" made in recent weeks and months to control the situation in the UK. "We cannot render all the sacrifices we have made redundant by failing to intervene to stop risk being reimported from abroad," he said. "By all means, go on holiday, but understand there is a chance that you might be asked to self-isolate upon your return."
Clarke defended the government’s quick response to new data on the infection rate in Spain received on Thursday and Friday, with its decision on Saturday evening giving travellers and the travel sector just five hours to respond.
"The situation changed incredibly quickly late last week," said Clarke. "I don’t think there could have been a much more prompt turnaround. We have to respond to the data in as near to real time as we can to avoid risk being imported to the country. That is, I’m afraid, the backdrop against which all foreign travel has to be conducted at the moment.
"If you do travel abroad, there may be a change in the situation on the ground and therefore you may be asked to self-isolate upon your return. We want to minimise the number of cases where this happens. But it is just a reality now of the world we are in until such time as there is final progress to eliminate the virus."