MADRID — Spain’s prime minister said Britain had made “an error” by imposing a quarantine on everyone arriving from his country, a decision that blindsided British holidaymakers and has dealt another serious blow to Spain’s crippled tourism industry.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, in an interview with the news outlet Telecinco on Monday night, also said that Britain should have taken into account the strong regional divergences in the uptick in Spain’s coronavirus cases, rather than instituting a blanket quarantine order. Since the infection rates in some regions of Spain are lower than that in Britain, he argued, it was safer for British tourists to visit those areas than it would have been to stay home.
More countries have begun issuing travel warnings for Spain. The German foreign ministry on Tuesday warned against travel to three northeastern regions — Aragón, Catalonia and Navarra — that have all seen upticks in Covid-19 cases. On Monday, the Dutch government urged its citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city and the capital of Catalonia.
Simon Clarke, a junior minister in the British government, was quick to defend the quarantine rule.
“We don’t agree with that assessment,” Mr. Clarke told Sky on Tuesday in response to Mr. Sánchez’s comments, adding that Britain’s travel advice was guided by science. “Obviously we continue to work very closely with the Spanish authorities and wish them every success in getting this situation under control as quickly as possible.”
Spain’s coronavirus caseload has grown significantly in the last week, with 11,000 new infections putting it back among the worst in Europe, after significant improvement between May and June. Many of the new cases are among younger people, who are often asymptomatic, and the new outbreaks have been concentrated in northeastern Spain.
Over the weekend, the government had asked Britain to exclude Spain’s two archipelagoes, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands — both major destinations for British tourists, with low Covid-19 caseloads — from its quarantine order.
But on Monday, Britain’s foreign office confirmed that both areas would be subject to the quarantine order and advised Britons to avoid all nonessential travel to Spain.
Several British news outlets reported that the government was considering reducing the length of quarantine for returnees from Spain to 10 days from 14.
Though Spain’s foreign minister said on Sunday that the current outbreaks had been contained, Catalonia’s leader, Quim Torra, warned on Monday that the region faced “a critical situation,” adding that the coming 10 days would determine whether it needed to return to full lockdown. He said Catalonia was now in the same situation as in early March, shortly before Spain declared a monthslong state of emergency.
Britain’s weekend quarantine order for Spain followed a similar decision by Norway. But its impact on Spanish tourism is far more significant, given that Spain welcomed more than 18 million British visitors last year. Britons form the largest contingent of tourists in several vacation hot spots, notably on Spain’s islands.
The Spanish tourism sector has urged the European Union to step in and align travel rules across the continent to help avoid the chaos of last-minute cancellations triggered by quarantine orders.
On Monday, the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency based in Madrid, warned that “unilateral actions can cause confusion and produce unnecessary consequences.”