OPINION: Spain’s lockdown is over but quarantines mean our old freedoms are a long way off

Quarantines in Spain and Europe have been imposed for very good reasons which we can all understand, writes Graham Keeley. At the same time, they also stand as a block to that sense of freedom which now seems so precious.

OPINION: Spain's lockdown is over but quarantines mean our old freedoms are a long way off
A man in a mask peers out at San Sebastian's La Concha beach. Photos: AFP

The vocabulary of the coronavirus epidemic has changed subtly.

It seems just a few weeks ago that the word lockdown was a daily obsession, but this has now been replaced by quarantine.

In an effort to safeguard public health as they eased lockdown restrictions, some governments across Europe imposed quarantines on foreign visitors.

Earlier this month, Spain said new arrivals would have to self-isolate for 14 days, in order to reduce the threat of a second outbreak.

The quarantine was imposed for health reasons but also because a government official argued it would be anomalous for Germans to travel to second homes in Majorca if Spaniards were banned from moving around their own country. Domestic tourism will not start until July at the earliest.

Then just a week later, in a televised address to the nation, the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez told Spaniards that from 1st July, the same quarantine would be lifted.


Officials in Spain's tourism ministry were upfront about why this was happening when I spoke to them.

“This is a clear message to the British tour operators that we are open for business, so that they can plan for holidays here,” one told me.

Who can blame the Spanish?

In a country where tourism accounts for over 12 percent of GDP and 12 percent jobs depend on holidaymakers arriving every year, tourism is a desperately important part of the economy.

Over 80 million tourists spent their holidays in Spain last year, 18 million of which were Britons, who make up the largest market by nationality.

Sánchez, like every other world leader, has the impossible task of juggling public health imperatives while trying to keep the economy alive.

Hence he has gambled on lifting the quarantine, as long as there is no resurgence in the virus.

For the likes of you and I, however, quarantines have become the stuff of our daily conversations for a different reason.

After months cooped up, millions of us are half-thinking, half dreaming, of escaping our homes for – whisper it quietly – a summer holiday. Remember those?

The snag is if different countries impose quarantines at different times, this makes taking a holiday abroad a little problematic to say the least.

Take Britain, for example, where a quarantine will be imposed from 8th June and reviewed every three weeks.

Anyone arriving in the UK will have to self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone flouting this will face fines of GBP 1,000.

So who is going to travel to Britain while that is operational? Does staying in a hotel for two weeks appeal? I doubt it.

And what about the British tourists who would love to lap up a bit of Spanish sun? How can they book up holidays without knowing if they will have to go into isolation when they return?

Two cousins of mine who live in Scotland booked trips to the Canary Islands earlier this year – pre-Covid-19. They are due to travel in July.

Now neither is sure if they can go because if things remain the same, they will have to self-isolate when they get back. That will mean taking, in effect, a month off work. How many companies can really sanction that in the present climate?

Then there is the added worry of sitting on a packed plane and spending two weeks in a hotel which may or may not be safe. Given all these factors, most will decide to claim back the money or delay the holiday.


As I write this, tour operators in Britain have launched a campaign to force the UK government to lift this quarantine – or there will be no summer season.

This will not just ruin summer holidays, of course.

Jobs have already gone. Easyjet announced today it will be forced to cut almost a third of its European workforce – some 4,500 people – and doubtless more will follow.

As things stand, there is the real possibility that other countries, where quarantines do not exist, like Germany, will allow its citizens to travel to Spain, while the British are stuck at home.

However, beyond these harsh economic realities, the Q word seems important to us for a deeper reason.

More than a government regulation, it represents a psychological barrier to rediscovering that normal life which we used to take for granted just a few months ago.

Except for a very few centenarians who survived the Spanish flu after the First World War, none of us have ever lived through a pandemic.

Being told how we can move about our daily lives has been alien to us. In the age of cheap flights booked at the last minute, travel had until now been easy. We took it as a right.

So after millions of us have abided by the lockdown rules for months, the chance of savouring travel once again, seems to some people very attractive.

Quarantines have been imposed for very good reasons which we can all understand.

At the same time, they also stand as a block to that sense of freedom which now seems so precious.



Graham Keeley is a Barcelona-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .




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Flights, trains and ferries: Spain’s new international travel routes in 2023

The year 2023 will bring with it some new international travel routes to and from Spain. Here's all you need to know about getting to Spain by air, rail and sea this year.

Flights, trains and ferries: Spain's new international travel routes in 2023

It looks like 2023 is going to be a good year for travel if you live in Spain as there are many new transport routes, reaching cities across the country. While some are entirely new routes, others will be starting up again after stopping during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

From Madrid:

  • Cathay Pacific started flying to Hong Kong, China on October 2nd, 2022 and will continue into the new year.
  • Korean Air will be connecting Madrid with Seoul, Korea from March 26th, 2023 with three flights a week.
  • Norwegian Air will be operating routes between Copenhagen, Denmark and the Spanish capital from June 22nd 2023 twice a week.
  • Aeroméxico will be offering flights to both Monterrey and Guadalajara in Mexico from March 2023 with 3-5 per week and from June 1st, 2023 one per day. 

From Barcelona:

  • United Airlines will be flying between Barcelona and Chicago, US from May 6th 2023 (seasonal service only).
  • Level airlines started to operate flights between the Catalan capital and Santiago, Chile from October 30th 2022, 3 times a week and then 4 times from December 5th 2022.
  • Level also started offering 5-7 flights a week to Buenos Aires, Argentina from November 5th, 2022 and will continue to do so in 2023. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes about travel in Spain in 2023

From Málaga:

  • United Airlines will be offering flights between the Andalusian city and New York three times a week from May 31st 2023. 
  • Eurowings will be opening the first direct flight from mainland Spain to Cape Verde from April 2023, which will operate twice per week. 

From Murcia:

  • easyJet will be launching a new route between Manchester, UK and Murcia between March 28th and September 26th, 2023 with four weekly flights.
  • The airline will also be running routes between London, Luton and Murcia three times a week from April 1st 2023. 

From Vigo:

  • Air Nostrum will connect Vigo with London three times a week in the high season and two in low season from April 2023.

From Bilbao:

  • Low-cost airline Volotea will be offering a new route between the Basque city and Marrakech, Morocco from May 27th 2023.
  • Air Cairo also launched a new route between Bilbao and the Egyptian capital from October 31st 2022. 


Brittany ferries will be opening up and selling its routes to Spain from March 2023. 

  • Portsmouth to Bilbao – Two sailings per week (31 hours 30 mins to 36 hours overnight (two-night). 
  • Portsmouth to Santander – Two sailings per week (28 hours 30 mins to 33 hours 30 mins overnight or two-night). 
  • Plymouth to Santander – Two sailings per week (20 hours 15 mins overnight). 
  • Rosslare, Ireland to Bilbao – Brittany Ferries also launched the Rosslare, Ireland to Bilbao mini cruise in late 2022 and will be continuing this offering in 2023. The Salamanca will sail from Rosslare to Bilbao twice weekly. The journey will take around hours with one to two nights spent on board.

And within Spain…


Iryo – From March 31st 2023, the new high-speed rail operator Iryo which launched in November 2022, will start running trains from Madrid to Seville, Málaga, Córdoba and Antequera in the southwestern region of Andalusia. And on June 2nd, it intends to launch its route to the eastern coastal city of Alicante (via Albacete). 


Ouigo, another high-speed train network, also plans on extending its network in 2023 and towards the end of the year will offer round trips to Seville, Málaga, and Córdoba from Madrid.