Airlines hit out at Portugal’s exit from UK ‘green’ list in blow to travel market

By Luke Barras-hill |

Portugal will join the ‘amber’ travel list from 4am on Tuesday 8 June.

Embattled airlines have reacted with dismay at the UK government’s decision yesterday (3 June) to remove Portugal from the ‘green’ travel list of countries.

Despite speculation the government could add to the current list of 12 countries where travel is permitted without the need to quarantine on arrival to the UK, no further changes were made and Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira) was instead bumped to the ‘amber’ travel list (effective 4am on Tuesday 8 June).

Vaccinated UK citizens returning from Portugal are now required to isolate for 14 days as ministers react to rising Covid-19 cases and concerns over a mutation of the so-called ‘Delta’ variant first identified in India.

Portugal’s foreign ministry has questioned the logic informing the decision.

‘VACCINE DIVIDEND ERODED’

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK that represents UK-registered carriers branded the move a ‘fresh body blow’ for families eager to travel in the summer and the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the travel sector.

Despite vaccinating millions more people both in the UK and Portugal, we have actually gone backwards since the original country list was published,” he said. “The vaccine dividend we had built up has now been eroded, and the UK will fall further behind the rest of the EU who are safely opening up their tourism sectors and removing restrictions for vaccinated passengers.

“This is no way to treat passengers. The government promised a green watchlist to avoid this very scenario of people being stranded overseas – where is it? This decision just adds to the belief that ministers don’t actually want international travel this summer and want to cut off the UK from the rest of the world despite the success of the vaccination programme.

“If that is the case they should be open and tell us rather than leading us and our customers further down this painful merry dance, and put in place longer-term support measures for an industry now on its knees.”

Ryanair has called on the government to immediately restore Portugal to the green list and add other ‘low-risk’ destinations such as Malta, the Balearics and the Canary Islands. Source: Ryanair.

The government has come under pressure in recent weeks to delay the lifting on Covid-19 restrictions due on 21 June.

A decision on the latest stage of the roadmap out of lockdown is due on 14 June.

Despite the low volume of countries on the green list, the government is advising the public not to travel to amber countries amid the aforementioned concerns over the prevalence of Covid-19 variants .

Alderslade told the BBC’s World Tonight programme that the industry is being ‘potentially sacrificed in order to protect the domestic re-opening on 21 June’.

“That’s fine if you just think of the sector as a conduit for holidays, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs here,” he added.

Jet 2 has delayed restarting flights and holidays by one week until the 1 July in reaction to the news.

Ryanair branded the decision ‘bizarre’ while criticising Transport Secretary Grant Shapps for failing to add other destinations such as Malta and islands such as the Balearics and Canaries, which have low Covid-19 case counts, to the green list.

The first three-weekly review of the government’s traffic light system governing travel resulted in no new countries being added to the green list. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured) has urged the public not to travel to destinations outside the green list.

SEVEN MORE COUNTRIES JOIN RED LIST

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary said in a statement issued today: “This stop-go-stop approach to short-haul travel in Europe is inexplicable and unjustified when 75% of the UK population has now received a Covid vaccine.

“There is no medical or public health reason for moving Portugal from the green to the amber list, when its Covid case rates are as low as the UK at just 50 per 100,000 population, and Portugal’s vaccine rollout programme has exceeded 40% and is rapidly catching up with UK levels.

“UK citizens who have already booked travel to Portugal deserve an explanation why vaccinated UK citizens are required to quarantine when returning from a country which has similarly low Covid case rates as the UK.

“Ryanair calls on Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps to immediately return Portugal to the green List, and add those other low risk destinations such as Malta, the Balearics and the Canary Islands, so that British families can plan their holidays for Summer 2021 without being repeatedly disrupted and mismanaged by Boris Johnson and his chaotic government administration.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that while he appreciated news of Portugal’s exit from the green list would be disappointing and frustrating for holidaymakers and workers in the travel industry, he maintained that ‘a cautious approach’ is needed to protect the UK from the new variants.

Portugal’s almost doubling in Covid-19 positivity rates of late has necessitated ‘swift action’ to safeguard the gains made through the vaccine deployment, says the government.

According to data from GISAID, 68 cases of the Delta variant have been identified in the country including those carrying mutations.

In a further move, seven countries including Sri Lanka and Egypt have now added to the ‘red’ list, with those changes also coming into effect at 4am on Tuesday 8 June.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “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. 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.”

Current rules mean travellers to the UK require proof of a negative test, taken within three days before the service on which they will arrive in England departs.

Arrivals from amber countries must also book and pay for day two and day eight Covid-19 travel tests for when they return to the UK.

Only the day two test is required for those returning from green countries.

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