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UK travellers from Spain must quarantine – but Foreign Office won’t advise against islands

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The UK ‘travel corridors’ scheme descended into chaos yesterday as new rules were imposed on people returning from Spain.

From today, anyone returning to the UK from Spain will be forced to undertake a 14 day quarantine.  This has been imposed after a surge in coronavirus cases in parts of the mainland.

The current ‘travel corridors’ list is here on

Because the restrictions will be imposed with just 24 hours notice, it will catch out many people who travelled to Spain in the belief that they could return to work immediately upon their return.  Many, unable to work from home, will now face having to take two weeks of unpaid leave.

The only ‘positive’ side is that it is still early in the English school holidays and very few will be forced to miss lessons next term due to this.  (Scottish children will be hit, with school resuming on 11th August.)  It will, however, wreck the holiday plans of many people who have just booked flights and potentially non-refundable hotels for August.

This move puts the future of the entire ‘travel corridors’ scheme into question.  You can no longer book a trip to a country in the travel corridor scheme safe in the knowledge that you will be able to return and head straight back to work or school.

Here’s is the bigger problem though.

The only way to cancel your trip and make a claim on your travel insurance would be if the Foreign Office advised against travel to Spain.

However, whilst the Foreign Office has advised against travel to MAINLAND Spain, it has NOT recommended against travel to the Canary Islands or Balearic Islands as infection levels remain low.

This means that you cannot make a claim on your travel insurance on the grounds of Foreign Office advice if you are travelling to Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Graciosa, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera.  If you cannot get a refund from your airline or hotel, your insurance won’t help.

If this sounds illogical, here is the reason.  The quarantine list is set out by entire countries or territories – the legislation does not allow for only specific parts of a country to be quarantined.  This is why you must quarantine on your return from the Canary Islands, even though they are 660 miles from mainland Spain.  The Foreign Office advice is more granular which is why the Canaries and Balearics are deemed safe.

Here is the official text from the Foreign Office website:

From 26 July, the FCO advises against all non-essential travel to mainland Spain based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks. Only the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa) and Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera) are exempt from the FCO advice against all non-essential international travel.

This advice is based on evidence of increases in cases of COVID-19 in several regions, but particularly in Aragon, Navarra and Catalonia (which include the cities of Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona).

The FCO is not advising those already travelling in Spain to leave at this time. 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. If you are returning from Spain (including from the Balearics and Canaries) on or after 26 July you will be required to quarantine on your return to the UK, but the FCO is not advising you to cut short your visit. You should contact your tour operator or airline if you have any questions about your return journey.

PHE are continuing to monitor the situation in the Balearic and Canary Islands closely. Travellers there should continue to check this advice regularly.

PS.  It is, of course, worth remembering that – in practice – the UK Government is not actively enforcing the quarantine rules in England.  Not a single person was fined for breaking them in the two weeks for which data is available, and the only testing done is to call you on your mobile phone and ask if you are at home.

Comments (273)

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  • Patrycja says:

    I came back from Spain today (flight from PMI to EDI).
    I tried to be good and filled the Health Location Form for the second time given changes to quarantine rules and answered the ‘do you have to quarantine on arrival’ question to YES.
    Upon arrival, I went through electronic passport gates, no one even asked me about the form, where I was travelling from or gave any guidance on quarantine rules. I’m not feeling confident in the whole quarantine process and needed to look up guidelines . Many people simply won’t bother to adhere to the rules if no one told them what they are.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      It’s nudge theory in action. We all know the gov’ cannot enforce quarantine … but it will persuade a large number of people not to travel in the first place and vastly reduce the numbers travelling between UK and Spain – which reduces their risk of those who did not travel importing Covid19 to exactly zero, i.e. it is 100% effective for those people -even though they will never appear on any “quarantine effectiveness” statistics.

      • Travel Strong says:

        Data point: I have cancelled my planned trip to Spain and will make other plans.

        I’m sure I could successful have evaded quarantine if I wanted to – but the simple existence of the FCO advice and request/requirement to quarantine is enough to stop me (and many others) travelling in the first place.

        • Harry T says:

          I’ve cancelled my Spain trips too. I could even probably return to work under the terms of the guidance, without a quarantine, but I think public health is a collective effort and we should all do our part.

          • Anna says:

            Does your employer have a policy on this? It’s going to cause chaos if large numbers of emergency service workers are now going to have to spend 2 weeks in quarantine in the busiest leave period.

  • Aaron C says:

    Which agency is meant to enforce the quarantine in England? Is it the police, border agency or someone else like PHE?

    If someone has a questions about whether an exemption applies who do they ask?

  • Spaghetti Town says:

    Lots of criticism of the government in this thread but I think they were right to act on this.

    If there was a flare up of coronavirus in a part of London because a super spreader came back from Spain, you’d all be complaining how nothing was done about it.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      And further to this it’s absolutely the correct decision if it will save lives.

    • PAL says:

      True, there should be more going on at the airports though but as a few people have told me arriving back today, no checks at all happening.

  • Nick Burch says:

    One slight issue with the quarantine rules changes – the Government doesn’t appear to have actually changed the law yet! As spotted on FlyerTalk, as of 6am Monday, they have updated the guidance, put out the press release, had lots of newspaper articles written, but neglected the fiddly bits of changing the legislation with statutory instruments laid before parliament…

    The current list of exempt countries as defined in law is at:
    Still includes Spain as of Monday morning!

    (It won’t actually need parliament to sit to make the change, as the government have seemingly got bored of the parliamentary process and are doing all the coronavirus laws using ministerial discretion and emergency provisions to issue SIs, but that’s another debate. Even the secondary legislation route requires them to write the change and publish it…)

  • Nick says:

    FCO Latest:

    From 27 July, the FCO advise against all non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks in the country.

    FCO advice against all non-essential travel to Spain now applies to the whole country, including the Balearic and Canary Islands

    • tony says:

      The important line is this one – A Foreign Office spokesman said the decision to change advice for travelling to Spain and its islands considered “the impact of the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK”.

      So because people had to quarantine for two weeks on their return and the associated economic impact, by blocking all travel, tour operators can’t take pax out there. You’re stuffed if you’ve booked independently, mind (like me….)

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