The foreign secretary has defended the reintroduction of coronavirus quarantine measures for Britons returning from Spain, telling Sky News: “We took the decision as swiftly as we could.”
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dominic Raab said the government received data on Friday which showed a “big jump” in COVID-19 cases across the country.
Mr Raab said ministers looked at the data on Saturday afternoon and acted as quickly as they could, with the announcement made on Saturday evening.
“And we can’t make apologies for doing so,” the foreign secretary said.
“We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised, or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action.”
The news has left thousands of holidaymakers angry and disappointed.
Mr Raab said he understood the move would be “disruptive for those going through this who are in Spain or have been considering going”.
But he added: “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 re-taking hold in the UK.”
Asked why holidaymakers were not given an earlier warning that a reintroduction of the restrictions was likely, Mr Raab said the government had to be able to “gauge the data in real time”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sophy Ridge on Sunday the decision has left holidaymakers “confused and distressed”.
“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 said.
The Scottish government lifted its quarantine rules on Spain this week but will now reimpose them, with Northern Ireland and Wales also following suit.
The government is asking employers to be “understanding” of workers who need to self-isolate.
Mr Raab said no employee should be penalised for doing so, telling Sky News: “We are changing the rules – the law is changed in relation to holidaymakers and travellers – and of course we expect employers show those employees who will have to quarantine because of the law the flexibility they need.
“If someone is following the law in relation to quarantine and self-isolating the way they should, they can’t have penalties taken against them.”
Mr Ashworth called for “clarity” from the government on whether those who are required to self-isolate for two weeks will get financial support “if their employers refuse it them” and for those currently in Spain “who have properly saved up all year for their family holiday who are confused and distressed”.
He added: “The way in which this decision has been communicated is obviously causing anxiety.”
The swift announcement even caught out a government minister, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps now facing the prospect of self-isolating for two weeks when he returns from Spain.
He flew to Spain on Saturday morning to start his summer holiday.
“I think it shows you the risk for everyone,” Mr Raab said when asked about the situation facing his cabinet colleague.
“I spoke to Grant Shapps yesterday afternoon and it shows you that we’ve got swift measures that we can put in place.”
Asked what his reaction was, the foreign secretary replied: “Like anyone, I think he empathised with many other people going through that.
“But he recognised, of course, that we have to take these measures to protect the country.”
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