Just when there seemed hope of salvaging summer 2020, access to Britain’s top package holiday destination was effectively cut off on Saturday night (25 July) – only three weeks after it reopened.
With six hours’ notice, Spain was removed from the UK’s travel corridor list due to a spike in coronavirus cases on the mainland. Then came a fresh blow on Monday evening when Spain’s islands were added to the destinations to which the FCO advises against all but essential travel.
Those currently on holiday in Spain and its islands – including transport secretary Grant Shapps, who was caught out by his own department’s announcement – will have to self-isolate for a fortnight on their return.
The move has also posed difficulties for the UK’s two largest package holiday operators, Tui and Jet2holidays, with many customers in-destination or with future bookings.
To help you cut through the information overload and give your clients clear answers on the situation, we’ve rounded up all the latest on travel to and from Spain.
(This article was updated at 9am on Tuesday 28 July after the Foreign Office further amended its travel advice in respect of travel to the Balearic and Canary islands).
There have been more than 28,000 deaths from Covid-19 across Spain, and 272,000 cases.
On 20 June, only 363 new cases were recorded, but this had shot up to 4,581 by 20 July, prompting the UK government to act.
However, the number of deaths has remained in single figures for most of July.
In comparison, the UK has recorded 45,752 deaths and 299,000 cases, with 726 new cases on 20 July.
Anyone returning to England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland from Spain and its islands must self-isolate for two weeks.
The DfT explained: “People will still need to self-isolate when returning from anywhere in Spain, as well as the Canary and Balearic Islands, because self-isolation arrangements are put in place on the basis of risk to the UK as a whole.”
The FCO is advising against all non-essential travel to Spain and its islands.
It said the evidence was based on an increase in cases of Covid-19 in several regions, but particularly in Aragon, Navarra and Catalonia (which include the cities of Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona).
In contradiction to the DfT’s edict, the FCO’s advice did not initially cover the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands because Covid-19 infection rates are lower there than mainland Spain. However, this advice has now been changed.
Effectively, a new outbreak of the disease in northern Spain means the entire country and its islands are now off-limits to the average holidaymaker, because as soon as the FCO advises against all non-essential travel to a country, travel insurance becomes invalid.
The FCO warning means operators will cancel programmes.
However, most have flexible rebooking policies. Tui has said it will cancel all package holidays to mainland Spain until 9 August, while EasyJet Holidays has announced all of its Spain holidays are cancelled until 1 August.
Jet2holidays has cancelled all mainland Spain bookings until 17 August.
There is no legal impediment to travelling to any part of Spain, and there are flights and ferries operating.
Someone, for example, with a holiday home on the Costa del Sol may well choose to travel, but the majority of those seeking an annual package holiday will want to avoid Spain.
A combination of increased pandemic risk, invalid insurance and a quarantine requirement on return means Spain will be a very difficult sell.
The FCO is not advising travellers already in Spain to return, so their travel insurance remains valid.
“Travellers should follow the advice of the local authorities on how best to protect themselves and others, including any measures that they bring in to control the virus," said the FCO.
The DfT said: "The government is urging employers to be understanding of those returning from Spain who now will need to self-isolate.”
They will have to do so at their own expense and there is no right to a refund.
EasyJet will allow customers no longer wishing to travel to change flights without a fee, although you will have to pay the fare difference, or receive a voucher for the value of their booking.
British Airways allows customers to cancel up to the day of departure and receive a voucher for the full cost.
Ryanair has waived its fee for flight changes on all bookings.
Package operators in general are now abiding by the DfT/FCO requirements and advice.
Anyone returning from Spain risks a fine if they breach the rules on self-isolation.
There are fines of up to £1,000 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while those returning to Scotland could be fined £480, with fines up to £5,000 for persistent offenders.
Clients who have booked packages to Spain will be entitled to choose between rebooking, a refund credit note, or a cash refund.
Those that have booked flight-only, where the flight is still operating, will be able to switch dates or choose a voucher.
Generally speaking, clients must wait for the operator to cancel to claim a refund and not cancel the holiday themselves.