Jet2 planes heading to Spain have been turned around in mid-air as the airline cancelled all flights to the mainland, Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands because of coronavirus.
Confirmed cases in Spain have risen by 1,500 in 24 hours and thousands of people have been placed in lockdown.
The country’s death toll has reached 120 and it is set to enter a two-week state of emergency.
Jet2 said the health and safety of its customers was its top priority.
The airline flies to destinations including Alicante, Malaga and Lanzarote from nine UK airports.
It said it decided to cancel flights after Spanish authorities ordered bars, restaurants, shops and activities to close.
“We know these local measures will have a significant impact on our customers’ holidays, which is why we have taken this decision,” an airline spokesperson added.
“This is a fast-moving and complex situation and we are reviewing our programme as a matter of urgency, so that we can fly customers back to the UK.”
Flight tracking information shows at least five Jet2 planes travelling to Spain turned around to return to the UK.
Dale Dixon, 26, from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, was due to fly from Alicante to East Midlands Airport at 11:45 GMT.
He there was a feeling of “deflation” at the airport, saying: “It is overcrowded here. There are children just lying around bored and bags scattered all over the place. People are definitely panicking.”
Holidaymaker Mark Harrison, whose flight home to Manchester was scheduled for this evening, said: “Jet2 said not to contact them so we are just waiting to hear from them. All we’ve seen is that which is on social media.”
‘Looking at suitcases’
Christine Jones from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, was expecting to fly out on a Jet2 plane to Tenerife with her husband at 14:20 GMT.
She said: “The last message we received last night from the company said they were looking forward to seeing us. We are fully ready and packed and are surrounded by our suitcases but we aren’t going anywhere now. I’m just sat here looking at suitcases.”
Easyjet said flights between the UK and Spain were currently “unaffected” – but that there was some disruption to those flights because of a shortage of air traffic controllers in Spain.
On Friday, British Airways warned it would need to ground flights “like never before” and lay off staff in response to the coronavirus. Ryanair told staff they might be forced to take leave from Monday.
Travel company Tui has cancelled all holidays in Spain which were due to start between 14 and 16 March.
Meanwhile a newborn baby and its mother have tested positive for the coronavirus in England.
Medics are trying to confirm whether the baby, who was tested at North Middlesex Hospital, was infected during birth or before, according to the Sun newspaper.
Government advice is that there is “no clinical evidence” to suggest the virus can be transmitted through breast milk.
“Infection can be spread to the baby in the same way as to anyone in close contact with you,” it says.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been meeting officials at Downing Street to discuss the pandemic.
A further 22 new cases have been confirmed in Wales, bringing the confirmed total in the UK to 820. Eleven people have died.
But the government’s estimate of the true number of cases was around 5,000 to 10,000, as of Friday.
Government sources said mass gatherings might soon be banned in the UK to ease pressure on emergency services. It is thought a ban could take effect as early as next weekend.
Banning mass gatherings is not about curbing spread
When the government announced its move to the “delay” phase of its response to the virus, officials made it clear banning mass gatherings was on the table.
But it’s not about curbing spread of the virus. An infected person is most likely to pass it on to those they are in close contact with – as a rough rule of thumb that’s people within 2m (6.56ft) of them for 15 minutes or more.
So whether you are at a mass gathering, next to someone in a pub or travelling on a train, there is a risk of transmission. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest the risk is lower if you’re outdoors. If you ban mass gatherings people just congregate in other places, such as the pub.
Instead, the logic of the move is to relieve pressure on the emergency services in attendance. It was always envisaged that this would be done when we started seeing significant rises in the number of cases – that is thought to be at least a few weeks away.
If the government acts sooner than that – next week as seems to be suggested – it marks a change in approach already. Officials may feel they have been bounced into it sooner than planned by the decision of the Premier League and others to cancel events – or the fact other nations have taken the steps.
But if they are still working on a longer time frame, nothing much has changed since Thursday.
Events still set to go ahead include the Grand National in April, the 75th anniversary VE Day commemorations and Chelsea Flower Show in May, and Glastonbury Festival in June.
In other developments:
- All Apple stores outside of what the tech giant calls “Greater China” – that is China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan – have been closed for two weeks. The tech giant reopened all 42 of its Chinese stores on Friday after they were closed for a month, causing a huge drop in iPhone sales
- Online supermarket Ocado has taken its app offline due to “performance issues driven by continued high demand” – while the website crashed for many users
- People planning to visit elderly relatives this weekend have been reminded to take extra care, as the government released new advice
- The Labour Party and GMB union are calling for the government to use empty beds in “plush private hospitals” to ease the pressure on the NHS. The union says there are about 8,000 beds in the UK’s private hospitals.
- In an unprecedented 24 hours, most of the world’s major sporting events have been postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic
- Catholic churches are preparing for the possibility they might have to suspend the celebration of Mass
- Most of the world’s major sporting events have been postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic, including the Edinburgh Marathon
- Bath’s annual half marathon is going ahead on Sunday despite local MP Wera Hobhouse saying it should be cancelled. Organisers said it is “now too late to cancel or postpone the event”
- The National Education Union has written to the prime minister to ask why the government has decided not to shut schools to help reduce the spread of the virus and asking for “fuller disclosure” of the models it has used during its decision-making process.