Thursday 3 June 2021 5:24 pm

Travel bosses fume as Portugal axed and no new countries added to UK's travel 'green list'

Portugal has been axed and no new countries have been added to the UK’s travel “green list” in today’s update in a blow to Brits’ hopes for getting away for some summer sun.

Portugal will be moved from the “green” list to the “amber” list, meaning a rush for some Brits there to return home before the new rules mean they’ll have to self-isolate for 10 days..

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed there’ll be no additions to the quarantine-free travel list, despite hopes that destinations such as Malta or Spain’s Canary Islands could be included.

All changes to the traffic light system will come into effect from 4am Tuesday 8 June.

Earlier speculation was enough to send airline and travel company shares sliding on the FTSE this afternoon.

British Airways owner IAG, Easyjet, Ryanair and TUI are all down between 3.7 and 6.1 per cent on the news.

Additionally, seven more countries could be added from the amber list to the red list, which will require returnees to the UK to quarantine at an airport hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,700.

The full list of additional countries added to the red list includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said portugal had been removed due to concerns about an uptick of cases there of the Indian or Delta variant of concern. The Indian variant is already the most prominent in the UK.

Shapps outlined the Government’s thinking that it didn’t want to risk the next stage of unlocking the UK.

“There’s a Nepal mutation of the Indian variant which is being detected [in Portugal] and we just don’t know if that’s a vaccine-defeating mutation. And we simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to the 21 June…and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock,” Shapps told the BBC.

Travel bosses: A ‘bitterly disappointing move’

The decision to remove Portugal from the “green list” will leave the thousands of Brits who had booked a trip to the Iberian country with a serious dilemma.

Travel bosses were quick to condemn the move, which could see their already-battered businesses hit by another blast of turbulence.

After one summer season lost to the coronavirus crisis, a second fallow period could be devastating for airlines and travel firms.

According to Cirium, there were more than 1,800 flights – with 345,000 seats – due to depart from the UK to Portugal this month.

Ryanair and Easyjet added thousands of extra seats in order to account for demand when Portugal was put on the green list last month.

Gatwick Airport boss Stewart Wingate called the move “bittery disappointing”.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO said:

“This shock decision to add Portugal to the Amber list is a huge blow to those who are currently in Portugal and those who have booked to be reunited with loved ones, or take a well-deserved break this summer. With Portuguese rates similar to those in the UK it simply isn’t justified by the science

“And to add no more countries to the Green list when most of Europe’s infection rates are on a downward trend and many places with low infection rates below that of the UK, such as the Balearics with a current rate of 33 in 100,000 and Malta, with just 12 in 100,000, this makes no sense.

“When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan. Yet the government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing peoples’ plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK.

Pilots union BALPA’s acting general secretary Brian Strutton said: “This decision is a total disaster for the already fragile travel industry and is likely to lead to further airline failures and many more job losses.

“We understand that safety comes first, but with vaccination programmes going well in many countries, it seems the Government is ignoring the evidence and is allowing safe countries to languish in the amber and red categories for no valid reason.

“Any shred of public confidence is in tatters and the traffic light system seems stuck on red.

“Our airlines need this summer season if they are to survive. The Government must look at the evidence and stop the illogical, over cautious approach, that is killing a once thriving industry.”

Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said that the traffic light system was not following the data, and risked wasting the benefits of the UK’s vaccination programme.

“Its own evidence shows the US and Caribbean are low risk and should be added to the ‘green list’ now”, he said. “We are yet to see clear and transparent guidance on the methodology and data the Government is basing these decisions on. It shouldn’t be a state secret.

“This overly cautious approach is failing to reap dividends from the UK’s successful vaccination programme, preventing passengers from booking with confidence and restricting £23m in economic value each day with our largest trading partner.

“We urge UK Government to expedite talks with the Biden administration to lead the way in opening the skies ahead of G7 next week.

Virginia Messina, World Travel and Tourism Council senior vice president, said: “The government has once again cold-shouldered Travel & Tourism by refusing to add any new destinations to the already slim green list.

 “There are so many countries with similar vaccination levels and low infection rates as the UK to which travel should be restored immediately, such as the US and Malta . 

The government’s travel traffic lights, as of 02/06. (Data: DfT)

Adam Tyndall, programme director for connectivity at London First, said: “It is deeply disheartening that restrictions on international travel seem to be increasing, at the point when vaccination programmes in the UK, Europe and elsewhere are ramping up.

“Our economic recovery, and the future of hundreds of thousands of jobs, depends on our ability to travel safely.

“To give confidence in the system, the Government should publish the data and the thresholds behind the decisions made, so those wanting to travel have as much information as possible.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency said: “This decision will further threaten tens of thousands of jobs in aviation and travel, not to mention further damage consumer confidence.

“The data shows several countries should be green so the government’s decision defies logic. Summer is being squeezed by a policy of fear.”

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “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.

“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.

What are the rules?

  • Green: Travellers returning from green countries have to take a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of departure, and then take a PCR test on or before the second day of their return to the UK (even if fully vaccinated). They will not have to quarantine.
  • Amber: Holidaymakers returning from “amber” destinations have to isolate at home for 10 days. Amber travellers also have to take a test before departure and book and pay for two PCR tests on day two and day eight of their home quarantine. If they want to release quarantine early, they can pay for a PCR test on day five (but will still have to take the test on the eighth day, as well).
  • Red: Brits coming back from “red” countries have to quarantine for 10 days in hotels chosen by the government. The stay costs £1,750 per person, with pre-departure tests and tests on days two and eight.