Tens of thousands of British tourists in Spain have had their holidays thrown into disarray after the Government imposed an immediate two-week quarantine for anyone returning home from the country.
Ministers reimposed restrictions on travel from Spain, including its islands, last night following new outbreaks of coronavirus which prompted Spanish health officials to warn of a potential second wave of infections.
Holiday firms have already began urgently cancelling trips to the country, with TUI stating that that it "won't take customers on holiday" if they were required to quarantine on their return. It will offer refunds to all those whose trips are being cancelled.
Meanwhile, ministers were drawing up plans to offer Covid-19 tests to those who have returned from Spain in recent days.
The sudden removal of Spain from the list of countries exempted from the Government's quarantine rules is expected to have a chilling effect on the travel industry. It is likely to prompt fears that other countries could also be removed without notice if infections spike elsewhere.
Last night the Foreign Office was advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain.
The advice did not cover the Canary Islands or Balearic Islands, where Covid infection rates are lower than on the mainland.
A Government spokesman said: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their Coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data.
"Protecting public health is our absolute priority and we have taken this decision to limit any potential spread to the UK.
"We've always been clear that we would act immediately to remove a country where necessary. Both our list of quarantine exemptions and the FCO travel advice are being updated to reflect these latest risk assessments."
A Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to the change in guidance, saying the country was a safe place.
"The Spanish government considers the situation under control. New outbreaks have been identified, isolated and controlled. Spain is a safe country. We respect the decisions of the United Kingdom and remain in contact with the British authorities."
The decision was taken yesterday afternoon after ministers including Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, met to discuss rising concerns about rates of infections in Spain. The new restriction was imposed on travellers returning to England from midnight last night, with similar action taken by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Owen Dallison, Barcelona-based operations manager of Devour, a company which conducts food tours across Spain, told the Sunday Telegraph: "People are scared to book holidays now. As soon as quarantine is lifted people have to book in the moment and travel. A month ahead who knows if you will be able to take that flight.
"This sort of decision, taken with such speed and no warning, makes tourists and travellers even more wary of booking."
Last night tourists with trips booked to Spain this week said the sudden decision meant they were having to choose between work and a holiday. Insurance worker Kieran Freeman, 24 who is due to travel to Bilbao with friends on Wednesday, said: "Will they start cancelling flights? Will they offer refunds? There are a lot of unanswered questions. I still plan to go, but I'll have to see if my work will allow me to quarantine when I get back."
Rory Boland, travel editor of the consumer group Which?, asked: "Why on earth was this decision not taken 48 hours ago, when it was clear there was a problem with Spain, and before tens of thousands of UK holidaymakers flew out on Friday as the summer holidays started?"
Spain has seen a surge in new cases of Coronavirus in recent days, with one of its top health officials warning that the country could be suffering a second wave of Covid-19.
Local lockdowns have been put in place, with several in areas popular with British tourists, as the country recorded an additional 2,255 new cases on Friday, following 2,615 new cases on Thursday.
Authorities have identified 281 active outbreaks, mostly of fewer than 10 people, over the past two weeks. According to the Spanish Ministry of Health around one-third of the outbreaks come from social or family gatherings, with nightclubs identified as a new hot spot for infections.
The British Government's decision follows similar measures taken by other European countries, with France instructing its citizens not to travel to Catalonia and Norway re-imposing quarantine rules for people arriving from Spain.
The holiday operator TUI last night announced it would cancel all planned holidays to Spain in response to the announcement.
Every customer already in the country will be "proactively contacted to discuss their options," a spokesman said.
"As per our TUI Holiday Promise, we won't take customers on holiday if we know they're required to quarantine on arrival or on their return home," the spokesman said.
"If a customer's holiday can't go ahead due to COVID-19, they'll have the option to receive a refund credit note for the full value of their holiday or a cash refund."
Thousands of British tourists are thought to have travelled to Spain since travel restrictions were lifted. Last week, British holidaymakers urged others to come and "enjoy the sun".
The Spanish tourism industry, which accounts for around 12 per cent of the economy, now faces renewed uncertainty just a few weeks after the country's borders were reopened to tourists last month.
Local authorities in the Costa del Sol have ordered people running along the beach to wear face masks.
The region of Murcia sealed off 30,000 people in the town of Totana on Thursday, barring anyone from entering or leaving after 55 cases linked to a nightlife venue.
Elsewhere, restrictions have been tightened in Zaragoza and Pamplona while millions of people have been urged to stay at home in Catalonia. Public gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned and night time venues shut in the most affected areas, including Barcelona.
Spain's deputy emergency health director Maria Jose Sierra said: "We have important outbreaks. It could be a second wave. We'll have to see what happens in the next few weeks."
Her comments marked the first time a senior Spanish health official had spoken of a second wave since a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases following the end of the country's state of emergency on June 21.
Spain has been one of the European countries worst hit by Coronavirus, with the national death toll now at 28,432.
On its worst single day in early April, 961 people in the country died of the disease.
The crisis led to widespread wearing of masks and a strict lockdown, including severe restrictions on outdoor exercise and a ban on any outdoor gatherings.
British holidaymakers facing holiday chaos criticised the "kneejerk" decision to take Spain off the list of safe countries.
Alasdair Murray, a copywriter from Sussex, booked ten days in a Malaga apartment in January and was due to fly with his family of four on Tuesday night.
He told the Sunday Telegraph he was debating whether to endure two weeks of lockdown after his return or to cancel the holiday completely.
"It's not clear whether the government is saying don't fly there, or by all means fly but lock yourself away for 14 days upon your return," he said.
"It really is a blanket knee jerk reaction when the increase in numbers has only been in a few areas of Spain.
"Now thousands of people will have to lose two weeks work when they are likely fit and healthy. Why can't they be tested upon return rather than locked away?
"I am fortunate as I work from home, but I feel for the thousands who have already lost a lot of income.
"My dilemma is whether to lose hundreds of pounds on the flights, or go ahead and sentence ourselves to qurantine on return."