MADRID (Reuters) – Britain made a mistake when it decided at the weekend to slap a quarantine on people traveling from Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday, saying much of the Mediterranean country had a lower coronavirus infection rate than the UK.

Sanchez was speaking just after Britain dealt a new blow to any hopes of reviving Spain’s tourism by extending guidance advising against all non-essential travel, which already applied to mainland Spain, to include the Balearic and Canary Islands.

“The error, in my judgement, and hence the lack of alignment of the United Kingdom’s response, is based on considering the cumulative incidence of (the virus in) the entire country,” Sanchez said in an interview with Telecinco television.

The rebound in coronavirus cases is focused in two regions, Catalonia and Aragon, he said, adding: “In most of Spain, the incidence (of the disease) is very much inferior to even the numbers registered in the United Kingdom.”

Last year, Britons made up over a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies heavily on tourism.

The Socialist prime minister said the British government had given Spain no heads up about the quarantine move.

Nevertheless, both teams are in touch and Madrid is trying to persuade British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to change its mind, Sanchez said, adding that the two governments were “friends”.

FILE PHOTO: Spain’s new Industry Minister Reyes Maroto reacts during her taking over ceremony at the Ministry of Economy in Madrid, Spain, June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

But the latest British move, announced shortly before Sanchez’s evening interview, did not bode well for Spain’s chances of getting the British government to change tack any time soon.

While Madrid was focusing its efforts on getting the Balearic and Canary Islands, which have a low coronavirus rate, off the quarantine list, London instead decided to add them to its guidance advising against all non-essential travel.

Sanchez said that the two archipelagos, as well as the regions of Valencia and Andalusia, had a lower infection rate than Britain.

“It would be safer to be in those destinations than in the United Kingdom,” he said.

The blanket quarantine has been criticised by tourism groups as disproportionate and impulsive.

Earlier on Monday, Spain’s hard-hit hotels had offered to pay for foreign tourists to take coronavirus tests, in an effort to lure back visitors worried by a fresh wave of cases and put off by Britain’s sudden imposition of a two-week quarantine.

Since ending its nationwide lockdown a month ago, Spain has been grappling with a rapid proliferation of new cases.

Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas arrives to attend the first cabinet meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera/Files

The Health Ministry reported 6,361 new cases over the weekend and said it was monitoring 361 clusters around the country.

Britain’s transport minister cut short his own holiday in Spain to return home to handle the fallout.

“The sooner I get back from Spain myself, the sooner I can get through quarantine,” Grant Shapps said in a statement.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Nathan Allen, Belén Carreño and Joan Faus; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro, Paola Luelmo, Costas Pitas; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney

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