As those of us with family and friends in the UK are aware, travel between Britain and Spain is currently problematic. The Covid safety measures implemented throughout Europe have made travel difficult, if not impossible. The UK government’s application of quarantine to visitors from Spain have only made the situation more complex and unsettling.
With new cases rising exponentially – especially in Spain, France and the UK – many people welcome a cautious approach from governments. However, confusing rules that are not backed by any scientific evidence do little to inspire public confidence. This applies to residents and visitors alike.
Although Spain is experiencing Covid levels matching those in March, thankfully the death rate is down significantly. This seems to be a pattern worldwide, even in countries that are experiencing more cases than ever before. UK cases are at their highest level to date – approximately three times higher than at the peak during lockdown. However, the safety measures are less restrictive than during the “first wave”.
Many people have expressed concern re their safety and that of their UK families. With obvious exceptions – such as Covid hotspot Madrid – Brits appear to feel safer in Spain than in the UK.
Having recently returned from a three-week trip to the UK, I was initially nervous at the prospect. I was concerned about flying and potentially being trapped in a crowd at the airport. I need not have worried. Only 31 people were on my flight and the usually packed passport control area at Stansted airport was deserted. Baggage reclaim was the only place with any sign of life.
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An empty airport greets travellers to the UK. Photo: AFP
I duly completed my online paperwork for the British government, detailing where I was staying and providing contact details for track and trace. During two weeks of quarantine, I was never contacted. I can’t say I was surprised, but the lack of contact increased my unease about my personal safety in England.
When I was finally free to go outside, I visited my mum in her care home for the first time in eight months. Those visits – for a maximum of 30 minutes a day – involved me wearing an apron, mask and gloves and maintaining a two-metre distance. Not an ideal way to spend our reunion, but a price worth paying for the safety of the care home residents and staff.
Apart from these visits, I ventured out as little as possible and shopped at quiet times.
Since my return to Spain, the UK government has introduced its three-tier Coronavirus restriction system, identifying differing levels of risk across the country. Part of the aim is to improve communications, which might also serve to increase public compliance. That remains to be seen. For those planning to visit the UK, you can see the relevant tier and accompanying restrictions for your area here– just enter the postcode for more information.
Returning to Spain highlighted the difference in attitude and approach between the two countries. Immediately on arrival, my temperature was taken. I was also given a leaflet explaining what measures I should take in the event of developing symptoms. In contrast, nobody even spoke to me when I arrived in the UK, much less gave me any instructions or advice.
We can only guess how long the UK’s quarantine measures will last. They are currently under review, with an announcement expected in November. The airline industry was relieved by last week’s news from the Transport Secretary that an arrival test might soon be introduced. The industry has stated that its very survival depends on encouraging passengers back onto planes, and that rapid testing is vital to save an industry “on the brink”.
While an arrival test wouldn’t remove quarantine altogether, it could potentially reduce it by half. However, arrival testing has now been deemed “unlikely”, as the government is considering testing people a few days afterwards instead. Considering the UK government’s questionable record on producing timely test results, it is difficult to see how this would work.
There’s also the issue of who pays for the test. I’ve seen figures of £150 and £200 bandied about, with the clear implication that the cost would be directed at the passenger. Would you be willing to pay considerably more than the cost of your flight to curtail your quarantine by three or four days? No, me neither and for families travelling together, the cost could be prohibitive.
Spain may not have got everything right in the fight against Covid – very few countries have – but the measures here have made me feel safe. By contrast, the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been confused, inept, and reactive. A government put together for the sole purpose of delivering Brexit was ill equipped to deal with anything else. As it turns out, they were pretty ill equipped to deal with Brexit too, but that’s a whole other story!
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain
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