5 min read03 June
Hopes for a summer holiday abroad have been dashed after the government confirmed Portugal would be taken off the “green list” of countries that do not require quarantine on return.
Portugal will be pushed onto the “amber list” from 4am on Tuesday, after which travellers will have to quarantine at home for 10 days on their return to England. The change also affects the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores, which will move from the green to amber lists.
Previously travellers would simply have had to provide two negative Covid-19 test results, with the change expected to spark a scramble among those who have already made the trip to get back in time to avoid having to self-isolate.
“The public has always known travel will be different this year and we must continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine rollout,” transport secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement annoucing the change.
“While we are making great progress in the UK with the vaccine rollout, we continue to say that the public should not travel to destinations outside the green list.”
The Department for Transport said the decision had been made as a result of a mutation of the Delta variant detected in Portugal, alongside Covid cases almost doubling since it was placed on the green list.
While it was confirmed today that 50 per cent of UK adults have now received two doses of a vaccine, Covid cases have risen more than 30 per cent in the UK in a week, 75 per cent of which are the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Public Health England is currently investigating the variant, and it is not yet clear whether current levels of vaccination will prevent the rise in cases from resulting in a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.
“Increases in case rates in the UK serve as a reminder that this pandemic is not over yet and we need to take a cautious approach,” UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said.
“Everyone should observe the travel guidance, continue to follow hands, face, space and fresh air, and have both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine when offered.
“Testing will help to break chains of transmission and allow us to see which variants are circulating so make sure you get tested when you return to the UK in line with the guidance.”
The government also confirmed that no new destinations would be added to the “green list,” despite hopes popular hotspots like the Greek and Spanish islands would be moved up from amber.
Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad & Tobago will be added to the “red list”, meaning people returning to the UK from those countries will have to quarantine in an approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
On Thursday afternoon Shapps remained positive about the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccination programme, but seemed keen to prioritise further reopening of the economy over foreign travel.
“Europe is probably 10 weeks behind but they will catch up,” he said.
“The decisive action today is designed to protect the future, to make sure that we can do a domestic unlock or give ourselves the best possible chance of doing so, and that will also help us to unlock international travel given time.”
Boris Johnson had hinted new restrictions on travel were coming when he said yesterday he wanted to let people travel, but added “we’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary”.
The Prime Minister also said: “We will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list, to the red list, if we have to do so.”
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has already accused the government of botching travel guidance, said ministers had “caused chaos” with today’s update.
“The confusion over the “amber list” has led to reports of over 50,000 people travelling to the UK daily, with only a tiny percentage going into hotel quarantine and a stream of flights entering the UK from “amber list” countries,” he said.
“Labour has warned time and time again that this is leaving the door wide open to new strains of the virus.”
Portugal has now been in each of the UK’s three travel categories this year.
It had been placed on the “red list” back in January during efforts to curb the spread of the Brazilian variant, as a result of Portugal’s strong links with the South American country.
It was later one of just 12 places put on the first “green list” three weeks ago as the government dropped the ban of travelling abroad.
With several of the green list countries either not open to foreign visitors or unsuitable for a traditional holiday, Portugal became the top destination for Brits looking to get abroad for the first time in months.
But after thousands jetted out for some sun during the May half-term it will be brought into line with almost all other European countries that the government is telling people to visit only in an emergency.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel PR firm The PC Agency, criticised the government for not adding more countries to the green list.
“I think it’s a terrible decision that threatens jobs and recovery in the travel sector,” he said.
“It shows little awareness of the safe destinations globally and is at odds with how citizens from other countries such as America are travelling.”
He said Brits who have have had both doses of the vaccine should be allowed to travel to a wider range of destinations.
He added: “They are basically putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs across aviation and the travel sector, and not showing any signs of helping the sector to recover.
“They seem to want to continue to create an atmosphere of fear among travellers, which is totally at odds with other countries.”
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