Portugal has been taken off the UK’s “green list” of destinations from which people can return to England without having to quarantine. The government has said the threat of new Covid-19 variants means that less restricted travel could jeopardise domestic unlocking.
No countries were added to the green list, but seven more – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad and Tobago – were moved from the amber list to the red list of nations to which almost all travel is barred, the Department for Transport said.
Portugal, including Madeira and the Azores, will be moved to the amber list on Tuesday, after which people returning will have to quarantine for 10 days. The seven countries will join the red list on the same day.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said changing Portugal’s status had been a “difficult decision to make”, but one based on the country’s test positivity rate having nearly doubled since the previous review of the lists, as well as concerns about a possible mutation of the Delta variant, first seen in Nepal.
Shapps said in a TV interview: “We just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation, and we don’t want to take the risk as we come up to 21 June and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”
The decision, which immediately wiped hundreds of millions of pounds off the value of tour operators and airlines, will dismay holidaymakers and the travel industry. It is also expected to anger some Conservative MPs, one of whom said the decision “puts a question mark” over a large number of jobs in the travel and aviation industries.
While travel rules are a devolved matter, the initial list of countries was unified across all UK nations.
Green-list destinations are in effect the only choice for holidays. They allow travellers to return to England without quarantining, although passengers must take a Covid test before coming back and another within two days of arriving.
Henry Smith, the Conservative MP whose Crawley constituency includes Gatwick, said he was “very concerned that we’re not being more ambitious” over travel. “I think we should be going in the other direction and liberalising the amount of countries on the green travel list.
“This decision really puts a question mark over a significant number of travel and aviation sector jobs going forward, if they can’t manage to have something of a summer season, I think it’s going to lead to increased unemployment.
“As an island trading nation, I think it impacts our economy more broadly, beyond the immediate aviation and travel sectors, and will mean that there will be people in the industry, and beyond, having to come to the government for bailouts and benefits in the coming months.”
Reports of the decision caused the stock market value of the tour operator Tui to fall by 3%, while easyJet and the British Airways owner IAG both shed more than 5% as they lost one of their main sources of revenue.
During the brief period in which Portugal was on the green list, it offered a lifeline to the battered tourism industry, given the restrictions already in place on travel to destinations like Spain and Greece.
Asked for a response to the decision, a tourism industry source said: “Do you want four-letter words or what?”
The first incarnation of the green list, announced on 7 May, consisted of a dozen countries, but several were in effect inaccessible to arrivals, notably Australia and New Zealand. The only mainstream tourist destinations were Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel.
The bulk of countries remain on the amber list. While it is not illegal to go to one of these for a holiday, it is strongly discouraged. People who come to the UK from a green-list country must take a Covid test before travelling, and on days two and eight once they are in the UK, and must quarantine at home or in a hotel for 10 days.
Anyone returning from the 50 red list countries has to undergo the same testing and self-isolation regime, but to do so while staying in one of the designated quarantine hotels at a cost of £1,750 per adult.