Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted that “nobody” should be going on holiday to countries categorised as amber or red. He told Sky News: “You wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic lights. You should not be going on holiday to those countries either.”
The warning cast fresh doubts on whether the final easing of restrictions will go ahead on June 21. Mr Jenrick made clear the “safety-first approach” in putting Portugal on the amber list from early Tuesday morning was to stop the roadmap out of lockdown being derailed.
However, the decision provoked fury in the travel industry and left an estimated 120,000 British tourists in Portugal scrambling to return to the UK by Tuesday or face the prospect of 10 days of quarantine at home on their arrival.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, said: “Boris Johnson’s Government is again mismanaging the Covid recovery. This stop-go-stop approach to short-haul travel is inexplicable and unjustified when 75 per cent of the UK population has 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 roll-out programme has exceeded 40 per cent and is rapidly catching up with UK levels.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds also criticised the move, saying: “This sums up the dangerous confusion ministers have created over travel restrictions.”
Mr Jenrick said the decision not to remove Portugal from the green list until Tuesday aimed to ensure people could travel home in an “orderly” manner. Portugal had been the only major foreign holiday destination in Europe on the green list.
Since foreign holidays were made legal again on May 17, 568 flights have left the UK for European airports, according to aviation analysts Cirium. Another 1,800 flights were scheduled to depart from the UK to Portugal in June with space for 345,000 holidaymakers.
Conrad Poulson, of analysts Huq Industries, said: “Assuming the largest capacity Boeing 737 can carry about 230 people that equates to around 487 flights to get everyone home. When you also factor in the five-day window before Portugal goes on the amber list, this rough calculation gives a sense of the scale of the issue for holidaymakers.”
Joao Fernandes, president of the Algarve Tourist Board, said the UK decision to downgrade Portugal’s listing was a “severe setback”.