The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said the government will not apologise for its snap decision to order tourists returning from Spain to quarantine, saying further spread could risk another lockdown in the UK.
Raab said the government had to take “swift, decisive action” when the data from Spain showed a surge in infections right across the country. Overnight, the UK imposed snap new restrictions on holidaymakers returning from Spain on Saturday night, meaning those who return must quarantine for two weeks.
Among those currently in Spain is the transport secretary Grant Shapps. His department imposed the new restriction in a blow to its “air bridges” scheme, which had advised tourists they could travel safely to a number of European countries.
The move followed a jump of more than 1,000 infections in Spain over the previous two days. Tourists and travellers were told they could avoid the 14-day social isolation rules if they returned to the UK by 11pm on Saturday, prompting fears of a surge of panicked returning holidaymakers.
“We took the decision as swiftly as we could,” Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “And we can’t make apologies for doing so. We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised [surges], or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action.
“Otherwise, we risk reinfection into the UK, potentially a second wave here and then another lockdown. So yes, I understand it is disruptive for those going through this who are in Spain or have been considering going, but we must though be able to take swift, decisive action to protect the UK – because we’ve made such progress in getting the virus down – and prevent the virus retaking hold in the UK.”
Raab said the government could not risk giving “vague advice” to holidaymakers. “There is a cutoff with changes in rules and advice we give, so I appreciate that that’s difficult and it can be disruptive,” he said.
“But it would be far worse to either muddy the waters or to hold back and delay from taking the measures when we need to take them. The reason this was taken at reasonably short notice was the spike in Spain that we’ve responded to … so it was the real-time response.”
Raab’s comments came as the UK airline industry said the government should adopt testing and regional air corridors instead of quarantining all holidaymakers returning from Spain.
Rob Griggs of Airlines UK told BBC Breakfast the announcement was a “big blow” to the aviation sector. He said: “We back the idea of voluntary testing on arrival or before you leave, we think testing would enable perhaps countries where quarantine would still apply as a whole to enable individuals to come back without the need for quarantine if they test.
“And that’s something that’s been trialled in various parts around the world now, but we also think it’s important to enable countries that are on the ‘go’ list, and people are able to fly [there], they will have the added reassurance that they would be able to take a test when they come back and not have to quarantine.”
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the 24-hour turnaround had left travellers “confused and distressed” about whether to continue their holidays, and warned some employers might pressure returning holidaymakers back to work.
“I understand why they’ve made the decision but, of course, the way in which this decision has been made in the last 24 hours is frankly shambolic,” he told the programme.
“There are holidaymakers in Spain at the moment confused and distressed, there are people about to go on holiday to Spain and the islands like Tenerife who are confused, and they don’t know whether their employers will allow them to take two weeks’ quarantine – the government is just saying, ‘we hope that employers cooperate’. Well, to be frank, I hope I win the lottery on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it is going to happen.
“You couldn’t make it up that Grant Shapps is over there on holiday in Spain, when he is the transport secretary – I think that tells you everything about the sort of government approach to this.”
Ashworth said clarity was needed on whether returning tourists could get financial support if they are refused help by their employer. “The way in which this decision has been communicated is obviously causing anxiety,” he said.
The shadow health secretary would not say if he himself was travelling abroad over the summer, but said the local lockdown in Leicester, where his constituency is, had made that impossible for many.
“When the government makes decisions, whether it is putting a city like Leicester into lockdown or telling holidaymakers they are going to have to quarantine for 14 days, they have got to back it up with financial support for people,” he said.
“This virus will spread when people have got no choice but to go to work, because if it is a decision between putting food on their table or losing their jobs and staying at home, people are going to put food on their tables to feed their families.”
“Whether that is when they are asked to isolate by the track and trace, whether it is on these quarantine issues or whether it is when an area like Leicester goes into local lockdown, we need better support for people so they can isolate and do the right thing to keep themselves safe and everyone else safe,” he said.