Industry criticises decision to remove popular destination
Portugal has been removed from the UK’s green list just three weeks after being added, the transport secretary has confirmed.
Grant Shapps said the government was employing a “safety first approach to give us the best chance of unlocking domestically” on June 21.
The country, including Madeira and the Azores, will be added to the amber list as of June 8. No new countries were added to the green list.
A further seven countries have been added to the red list: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Trinidad & Tobago
Shapps said rates of infection in the country have been doubling since the previous travel review. There is also “a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected, and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine defeating mutation,” he said.
Shapps said that “goodness knows the travel industry has suffered”, suggesting support was ongoing, despite widespread calls for greater measures to combat the devastating impact of the virus on the sector.
People arriving from amber list countries will have to quarantine for 10 days at home. They will have to take a pre-departure test, then a PCR test on days two and eight, but there will be an option for “test to release” in which they can end self-isolation early if they test negative on day five by purchasing an extra PCR test.
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer, said: “It’s clear that the Government’s domestic health strategy is continuing to prevent any meaningful resumption of international travel. You can’t build the recovery of a multi-billion-pound sector while mass market holiday destinations remain off the green list. The removal of Portugal comes on the back on what was already a very short and cautious green list.
“Travel agents and tour operators haven’t been able to generate income since the start of the pandemic and have been depending on the return of international travel to help bring in some much needed relief. The government now needs to come forward with tailored financial support for the sector, which recognises that the travel industry’s recovery will be slower than that in other sectors of the economy, and takes account of the unique challenges businesses in the sector are facing. Travel companies are desperately worried that at a time when the market hasn’t opened up they will shortly face increased furlough and business rates costs, with support being gradually withdrawn from the end of this month. It’s vital that the government doesn’t leave these businesses behind as it focuses on the domestic unlocking.
“We also need to see the government use the next review of the traffic-light system, on June 28, to deliver meaningful progress towards restart. Ministers must use that review to finally take the steps needed to capitalise on the great progress of the vaccine rollout in the UK. For example, many countries have chosen to exempt fully vaccinated individuals from certain travel requirements. The government should also treat islands separately in the traffic light system and take steps to further reduce the cost of testing.”
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren 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.
“Especially when domestic travel is allowed within the UK, despite a number of cities having infection rates 20 times greater than much of Europe.”
Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said: “UK government’s risk-based traffic light framework won’t provide the clarity and certainty that consumers, families and businesses need if it does not follow the data. Its own evidence shows the US and Caribbean are low risk and should be added to the green list now.
“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 23 million 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. There is no reason to delay, given that economic recovery and 500,000 jobs are at stake.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO at Advantage Travel Partnership said: “With Portugal now having been added to the amber list, we are stuck in what can only be described as a travel déjà vu. We have been clear from the outset that countries falling off the list at short notice creates anxiety, confusion, dents consumer confidence and throws up huge operational challenges for travel agents and the industry. When Boris Johnson announced the UK’s roadmap to recovery, he stated that the approach would be ‘cautious but irreversible’. Clearly, the same approach has not been taken for international travel despite the work of the Global Travel Taskforce and its engagement with industry stakeholders. Whilst the European Travel Commission launches its powerful marketing campaign Open up to Europe supporting tourism in the region, we are left dealing with a government who seems to have forgotten its travel industry exists.
As an industry we have collectively asked for a clear line of communication from government including transparency over the data, we are still not receiving timely, relevant information to support businesses on the brink of survival. Given the success of the vaccine rollout not just in the UK but in other nations and ensuring that we follow scientific advice it’s imperative that we start to unlock ambitiously and safely alongside the PM’s domestic roadmap. We need times and dates so businesses can make plans and start to inform customers of the safe choices available to them. We urge Government to support our industry instead of demonising international travel with unnecessary barriers, complexities and costs. We need to reunite families kept apart and facilitate businesses to meet international clients.”