Travel has responded with frustration, fury and despair to the news that Portugal is set to be relegated to the UK government’s amber list just three weeks after it named as one of only a handful of viable green destinations.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the decision on Thursday afternoon (3 June). Speaking to BBC News, Shapps said two factors had caused sufficient concern for the UK government to revoke Portugal’s green list status.
"One is that the positivity rate [of Covid-19 infection] has almost doubled since the last review in Portugal," said Shapps. "And the other is that there is a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected. We just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to 21 June and the review of the fourth stage of the [domestic] unlock.
Portugal, as well as Madeira and the Azores, will be formally removed from the green list from 4am on Tuesday 8 June, after which time arrivals into the UK from Portugal will, once again, have to self-isolate at home for 10 days – and submit to tests on days two and eight of their quarantine at their own expense.
Portugal’s inclusion on the UK government’s first quarantine-free green list, which came into effect from 17 May when government curbs on non-essential international travel were lifted, was hailed by the travel industry as the first true sign of progress for the sector after a bleak 15 months, and as a sign of the government being willing to reopen travel.
However, the decision – which emerged via a steady drip of apparent leaks to the national press on Thursday afternoon (3 June) – has compounded industry fears of there being no imminent prospect of a sustained resumption of international leisure travel, with the government actively discouraging non-essential travel to amber and red list destinations.
The Department for Transport on Thursday afternoon confirmed Spain, Greece, France, Italy, the US and the Caribbean would all remain on the amber list, and Turkey on the red list. A further seven countries have been dded to the red list – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Trinidad & Tobago. No countries have been added to the green list.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren described Portugal’s removal from the green list as a "shock". "With Portuguese rates [of Covid-19 infection] similar to those in the UK, it simply isn’t justified by the science."
The easyJet chief said the decision was all the more baffling given domestic travel is currently permitted within the UK where some areas have infection rates "20 times greater than much of Europe".
Lundgren also pointed to the government’s failure to operate a "green watchlist". "The government has torn up its own rule book, throwing peoples’ plans into chaos with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK. This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world."
Tui UK managing director Andrew Flintham described the announcement as "another step back" for travel. "After promises the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal straight from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.
"We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a week’s notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush back home. They have failed on this promise."