Boris Johnson Warns of Signs of COVID-19 Second Wave

Peter Russell

July 28, 2020

A decision to impose a 14 day quarantine period on everyone arriving from Spain was branded "unjust" by Madrid.

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, said that the UK had made an "error" as tourists in most Spanish regions would be safer from the SARS-CoV-2 virus than if they had stayed in the UK.

He said talks were ongoing after the UK widened its advice against all but essential travel to include the whole of Spain.

'Second Wave' Warning

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that there were signs of a resurgence of coronavirus emerging in Europe. On a visit to Nottingham today he said: "What we have to do is take swift and decisive action where we think that the risks are starting to bubble up again.

"Let's be absolutely clear about what's happening in Europe: amongst some of our European friends, I'm afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic."

Infectious disease specialists said the UK Government had been left with little choice except to impose quarantine measures following a spike in cases of COVID-19 in parts of Spain.

One expert echoed the Prime Minister's warning that with reported case numbers increasing in some European countries, quarantine restrictions for returning travellers could become more widespread.

Upsurge in Spanish Cases

Spain has experienced recent increases in case numbers, particularly in the regions of Catalonia, Aragon, Pais Vasco, and Navarro, data from the country's Ministry of Health showed.

The latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated that travellers returning to England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland from anywhere in Spain after July 26 needed to self-isolate for 14 days.

The FCO advises against all non essential travel to the whole of Spain including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands even though COVID-19 infection rates are lower on the islands than on mainland Spain.

The decision to remove Spain from the quarantine exempt travel corridor list was taken on advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England. Announcing the move at the weekend, a Government spokesperson said: "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."

'Things Can Move Suddenly'

Simon Clarke, the local government minister, told Sky News earlier: "We saw a 75% increase in cases on Thursday and Friday relative to Tuesday and Wednesday last week – that's what has prompted this intervention.

"We are living in a world where things can move suddenly and very seriously, and that's what appears to be happening in parts of Spain."

The Daily Telegraph reported today that the Government was considering cutting the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days. It said the proposal was based on testing returning travellers after 8 days, with those testing negative for COVID-19 being allowed to come out of isolation 2 days later.

Today, Mr Johnson did not rule out that the measure was under consideration. "We are always looking at ways in which we can mitigate the impact of the quarantine, try to help people, try to make sure that the science is working to help travellers and holidaymakers," he said.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, believes the re-imposition of quarantine restrictions for visitors returning from Spain was "almost inevitable".

He explained to the Science Media Centre: "From a low of only 280 cases per day, averaged over 7 days, in early June, the number of cases reported from Spain has increased, gradually at first but much more rapidly over the last 2 weeks to 1738 on 21st July.

"This is equivalent to 37 new cases per 1 million population each day. By contrast the UK is reporting only about 10 per 1 million population each day."

Prof Hunter warned: "Against this background, we cannot exclude having to re-impose quarantine on people returning from other counties or them imposing quarantine requirements on people coming from the UK.

"As we have seen this weekend, there is unlikely to be much notice of the intention to impose quarantine requirements when they do happen."

Prof Jose Vazquez-Boland, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, said although restricting travel to high-incidence areas was sensible, it should be based on solid factual evidence.

He said: "Spain has been singled out due to the recent increase in reported cases – 8207 in the last week vs 5292 the previous one – without taking into account that these are mostly due to localised spikes in the north-eastern part of the country, particularly Catalonia, and mainly involve positive PCRs of asymptomatic people."

He said that Spain's decision to boost its test and trace programme might be responsible for the increase in COVID-19 cases that has been seen, and there had not been a corresponding increase in the number of people dying from the disease.

"The quarantine imposed on Spain, with an important impact for UK holidaymakers and the holiday travel industry, may be the ironic consequence of Spain's ramped up efforts in COVID-19 testing and carrier tracing," he said.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, questioned whether imposing restrictions on travellers returning from the whole of Spain was the right approach. However, he said that while this could be viewed as a "blunt tool", it "may be the only way anyone has yet figured out to reduce importations", since "the UK epidemic in March mostly came in the noses of UK nationals returning from France, Italy, and Spain".

Holiday Plans Disrupted

The Government's decision to impose quarantine restrictions on travellers from Spain has disrupted foreign holiday plans for many UK tourists, while some workers face concerns about losing wages or holiday entitlement if they are forced to stay at home for 2 weeks.

Ministers have appealed to employers "to be understanding" of those returning from Spain who will now need to self-isolate.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, was among those caught out by the restrictions after he travelled with his family for a Spanish break just hours before the rules were announced.

Sky News reported that Mr Shapps would not be exempt from quarantine rules after he announced he would return early from his break. "The sooner I get back from Spain myself, the sooner I can get through quarantine," he said.

As of Friday July 24, Spain has had 272,421 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 28,432 deaths.

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