We'll pay for tests, Spain's hotels say, amid UK quarantine backlash

by Reuters
Monday, 27 July 2020 17:53 GMT

* Hotel association brands UK move "totally illogical"

* Urges system of reciprocal testing instead

* Some Spanish regions have lower infection rate than UK

* UK's transport minister cuts short own Spanish holiday (Adds UK travel advice and transport minister)

By Emma Pinedo and Nathan Allen

MADRID, July 27 (Reuters) - Spain's hard-hit hotels offered on Monday to pay for foreign tourists to take coronavirus tests, in an effort to lure back visitors worried by a fresh wave of cases and put off by Britain's sudden imposition of a two-week quarantine.

Britain on Saturday shocked hoteliers and holidaymakers with an unexpected 14-day quarantine on people returning from Spain, a major hit to a tourist season already hanging on by a thread.

"Not only is it unjust but it's also totally illogical and lacking in rigour," Spain's main hotel association CEHAT said of the quarantine.

Instead, the association proposed a system of reciprocal testing across Europe and said its members would cover the cost for tourists coming to Spain.

But in a further blow on Monday evening, Britain extended its guidance advising against all non-essential travel, which already applied to mainland Spain, to include the Balearic and Canary Islands.

Britain's transport minister also cut short his holiday in Spain to return home to handle the fallout.

"The sooner I get back from Spain myself, the sooner I can get through quarantine," Grant Shapps said in a statement.

Since ending its nationwide lockdown a month ago, Spain has been grappling with a rapid proliferation of new cases.

The health ministry reported 6,361 new cases over the weekend and said it was monitoring 361 clusters around the country.

With most new infections concentrated in Catalonia and Aragon and with several other regions having a lower infection ratio than Britain, the blanket quarantine has been criticised as disproportionate and impulsive.

"How is it that we find ourselves on the brink of the apocalypse in just 12 hours?" asked Jose Luis Zoreda, vice-president of the Exceltur tourism association, adding that the move could do lasting damage to Spain's image.

'A BADLY MANAGED OVERREACTION'

While Catalan leader Quim Torra warned that more restrictions could be needed if the local outbreak continued to expand, other regions such as Andalusia and Valencia felt unfairly penalised.

"Our epidemiological data are better than the UK's," Valencian regional leader Ximo Puig told Cadena Ser radio. "I don't understand why you would make a decision like this with such a broad brushstroke."

Puig's counterpart in the Canary Islands, Angel Victor Torres, said the shock to the local tourism sector could be irreversible if Britons stopped coming.

Tour operators, airlines and hotel groups, already struggling after the pandemic brought global air travel to a virtual standstill, also hit back at the measure.

Budget carrier Ryanair's Chief Executive Michael O'Leary derided the UK move as a "badly managed overreaction," while rival Jet2.com cancelled flights to four Spanish destinations.

Melia Hotels and NH hotels shares closed 6.4% and 4.3% respectively on Monday, while British Airways parent IAG dropped 5.9%. (Reporting by Emma Pinedo Additional reporting by Inti Landauro, Belén Carreño, Paola Luelmo, Conor Humphries and Costas Pitas Writing by Nathan Allen Editing by Ingrid Melander and Gareth Jones)

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