Travel industry leaders today blasted the Government’s ‘crippling’ and ‘confusing’ decision to axe Portugal from its green list of safe destinations amid growing concern over the Nepal coronavirus variant.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the Mediterranean country, whose economy relies greatly on British tourism, is being moved to the amber list from 4am Tuesday following a rise in positive tests.
But the Portuguese government called the move ‘illogical’ and ‘overly cautious’, while industry chiefs including TUI UK and easyJet said the scientific did not justify the ‘damage’ being done to the devastated sector.
Just one case of the Nepal variant, which combines mutations from the Indian and South African strains, has been detected in Portugal. By comparison, at least 43 cases have been identified in the UK so far.
The Airport Operators Association said ministers must provide a bailout to save jobs if it blocks another holiday season. ‘Summer 2021 is shaping up to be worse than last summer, which was the worst in aviation history,’ it added.
On Twitter, UK holidaymakers have said they will cancel their planned trips to Portugal ahead of the Tuesday deadline, while others have admitted they will knock overseas holidays on the head this year.
It comes as Britain recorded more than 5,000 cases for the first time in more than two months while 18 more people died from the virus.
TUI UK boss Andrew Flintham (left) called the announcement ‘another step back for our industry’. EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren (right) 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’
Portugal (pictured: A beach in Cascais near Lisbon) has been dropped from the UK’s travel green list – in a move that will be a bitter blow to millions of Britons hoping for a holiday abroad this summer
Just one case of the Nepal variant, which combines mutations from the Indian and South African strains, was detected in Portugal
At least 43 cases of the Nepal coronavirus variant have been identified in the UK
It comes as UK holidaymakers scramble to cancel their planned trips to Portugal ahead of the Tuesday deadline, with some revealing they are knocking overseas holidays on the head this year
Nepal variant ‘could have been spread by Everest climbers’
Sources said the mutant strain has been detected in more than 20 Britons and is closely related to the Indian variant currently dominant in the UK
A coronavirus variant that is being linked to Nepal could have been spread by climbers travelling home from Mount Everest, experts say.
As many as 13 passengers flying from Nepal to Japan were infected with the new mutant strain that combines mutations from the Indian and South African variants.
At least 43 cases have been spotted in the UK, MailOnline revealed today, with the strain first spotted on April 24 according to surveillance data. Cases were also detected in the US, India and Portugal.
Its mutations mean scientists fear it could be more infectious, and more resistant to vaccines.
Matt Hancock said yesterday Britain is preparing to buy millions of tweaked doses of the AstraZeneca jab that target the South African variant.
SAGE scientists think it makes jabs at least 30 per cent less effective against infections, but its impact on severe disease is not known.
Ministers sparked surge testing in postcode areas where the strain was detected, to root out every last case.
At least one case has been spotted in Portugal, which sources say will move to the ‘amber’ list today sparking holiday misery across the country.
Only one case of the variant has been recorded in Nepal so far, but the country carries out very little surveillance for mutant strains. The UK has placed Nepal and India on its ‘red’ list, and the US is on its ‘amber’ list.
In a statement to MailOnline, package holiday firm TUI UK called the announcement ‘another step back for our industry’ and demanded to see the scientific basis for the decision.
Its managing director, Andrew Flintham, said: ‘After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the Government decision to move Portugal straight from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence.
‘We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a weeks’ notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush back home. They have failed on this promise.
‘Unlike other European countries and despite multiple requests, the government has refused to be transparent about the data requirements for green, amber and red destinations.
‘We must see the methodology so we can help our customers and plan our operations accordingly. There are destinations around the world with little or no Covid-19 cases and good vaccination rates, so we need to understand why these remain on the amber list.’
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.
‘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.
‘This decision essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world.
‘We have demonstrated that a safe reopening of travel is possible as our study with leading epidemiologists from the Yale School of Public Health showed that the criteria which matters most is the impact on hospitalisation rates back in the UK, not the infection rates in destination.
‘Reopening travel to much of Europe would have a negligible impact on hospitalisation rates in the UK.
‘While our European fleet is gearing up for summer as European governments open up travel for their citizens, the UK government is making it impossible for airlines to plan while consumers are left grounded in UK.’
No countries are being added to the ‘green list’, dashing hopes that places such as Malta, Jamaica and Grenada could be added to the roster thanks to easing Covid rates.
And more countries are being put on the ‘red list’ that means returning travellers must go into quarantine hotels. They are Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Bahrain, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago and Afghanistan.
Mr Shapps said there had been a rise in test positivity in Portugal, and also pointed to the danger that the coronavirus variant linked to Nepal could pose a fresh threat to the escape from lockdown.
‘I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end we’ve seen two things really which caused concern,’ he said.
‘One is the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is there’s 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, and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.’
However, a British Airways spokesperson called the decision ‘incredibly disappointing’ and ‘confusing’, adding: ‘The UK has reached a critical point and urgently needs travel with low-risk countries, like the US, to restart the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.
‘With high levels of vaccinations in the UK being matched by other countries, we should see the UK Government adding destinations to ‘green’ as soon as possible – not turning its back on a traffic light model which we were led to believe was based firmly on scientific data.’
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye reacted with fury this afternoon, saying: ‘Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.
As well as Portugal being moved to the amber list from Tuesday at 4am, seven countries are being shifted to the red list
Scientists have alerted ministers to the mutant strain – thought to have originated in Nepal – which has apparently spread to Europe. Pictured: Passengers arriving at Heathrow Airport
‘Everyone wants to protect public health, but the entire point of the Global Travel Taskforce was to establish a system to unlock low-risk travel safely.
‘Britain is the worst performing economy in the G7, and in the week that the Prime Minister hosts G7 leaders to launch his Government’s vision of Global Britain, he’s sending a message that the UK will remain isolated from the rest of the world and closed to most of its G7 partners.
‘If the Government is serious about protecting UK jobs and supporting businesses across the country, rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from ‘green’ countries, and slash the cost and complexity of testing, as other G7 countries are doing.’
Gatwick Airport boss Stewart Wingate told MailOnline: ‘It is bitterly disappointing news for our impacted passengers and airlines that Portugal is to be added to the ‘amber’ list from next week while no further destinations are being opened up for ‘green’ travel.’
How the green list will look from 4am on Tuesday
The chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, Charlie Cornish, accused the Government of ‘scapegoating’ international travel and risking tens of thousands of jobs.
He told MailOnline: ‘We were told the traffic light system would allow people to travel safely, with the right measures in place to manage risk for different countries.
‘But it is now clear the Government doesn’t trust its own system and that international travel is being unfairly scapegoated, with tens of thousands of jobs placed at risk in the process.
‘Low-risk destinations continue to be left off the green list despite clear evidence they are safe to visit. With case rates lower than the UK, we simply cannot understand why the likes of the Balearics, the Canaries and some Greek islands do not fall into that category.
‘If we followed the approach being taken across Europe, lots of other countries – like the United States, Germany and Italy – would also be classed as green. Instead, we’re stuck with a system that is clearly not fit for purpose and will deny people the opportunity to travel abroad safely this year.
‘The lack of transparency is shocking and totally unacceptable. If the Government has information that supports its decisions, then it needs to publish it. We have repeatedly asked for this data, but we are being left in the dark about how it is making these choices, with no opportunity for scrutiny or challenge.
‘That is not the way to go about limiting people’s freedoms and crippling the country’s travel and tourism sectors.
‘With so much at stake, we need immediate transparency and urgent action to make this system of travel restrictions fit for purpose.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, suggested the Government was motivated by ‘political’ considerations rather than public health.
On the decision not to add any more countries to the green travel list he said: ‘I think it’s a terrible decision that threatens jobs and recovery in the travel sector.
‘It shows little awareness of the safe destinations globally and is at odds with how citizens from other countries such as America are travelling.
‘Those British citizens who have been fully jabbed should be given more flexibility to travel to a wider range of green destinations.
‘They are basically putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs across aviation and the travel sector, and not showing any signs of helping the sector to recover.
‘They seem to want to continue to create an atmosphere of fear among travellers, which is totally at odds with other countries.
‘There are several countries which meet the criteria to be on the green list so this is clearly a politically charged decision rather than one based on data.’
ABTA travel association boss Mark Tanzer said: ‘It’s clear that the Government’s domestic health strategy is continuing to prevent any meaningful resumption of international travel.
Holidaymakers suffered a hammer blow today as Portugal was removed from the UK’s green list with Grant Shapps citing fears over the spread of the Nepal variant
Britain today recorded more than 5,000 Covid cases for the first time in more than two months while 18 more people died from the virus
HAVE SUN-SEEKING BRITS PLAYED A ROLE IN PORTUGAL’S RISING INFECTION RATE?
Portugal’s Covid infection rates were already rising before Brits were allowed to holiday in the country, data shows.
The country was one of the 12 countries to be named by Grant Shapps on May 7 as on the green list.
Since May 17, UK citizens have been allowed to travel to the Algarve and Portugal’s other popular tourism hotspots quarantine-free.
They were still required to take a Covid test before and after travelling, meaning only very few would have been able to bring the virus into the country.
Yesterday Portugal recorded 724 infections yesterday, its highest daily number of cases since March .
And the country currently has a case rate of around 37 infections per 100,000 people – higher than the UK’s rate of 34.5.
But cases have been rising steadily since May 11 — six days before Brits were allowed to travel to the country — when there were 268 positive tests.
Portugal’s rising Covid infection rates have been linked to Brits holidaying in the country but cases were already rising before it was green-listed for travel
Graph shows: Portugal’s confirmed Covid cases per million people since the start of the pandemic
Portugal recorded just 377 new Covid cases on May 7, when it was announced it would be on the UK’s green list.
Since then cases have risen 56 per cent, with cases rising 34 per cent in the last fortnight in contrast to neighbouring Spain — on the amber list — which has seen infections drop.
Its average cases per million people dipped below the UK’s briefly from May 10 (31.98) to May 13 (34.38) for the first time since April 7.
But they began steadily rising before Britons were allowed to enter the country without quarantining on return.
And the rate of increase has remained stable since that date, increasing 20.3 per cent in the last week.
Portugal and Brunei are the only two countries of the 12 on the green list to have seen infections rise since May 17.
Portugal’s average cases per million people dipped below the UK’s briefly from May 10 (31.98) to May 13 (34.38) for the first time since April 7
Some 16,500 football fans traveled to Porto last weekend for the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City.
Thousands packed the city’s bars, with many pictured ignoring social distancing rules and not wearing face masks.
It forced Porto’s health authority to tell residents who were near the fan zones to ‘reduce contacts’ over the next few weeks and look out for Covid symptoms.
But any effect on cases from the British fans travelling to the country will not be recorded for another few days due to the incubation period.
It takes about five days for the virus to take hold in the body after initial infection.
Just 20.8 per cent of people in Portugal have been fully vaccinated — compared to nearly half in the UK — while only 43.2 per cent have had their first jab — compared to more than three quarters of Brits.
And it is too early to tell whether the country’s swell in cases has come as a result of the Indian variant, with the results of genomic testing of Brits returning to the UK expected today.
‘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.’
Steven Freudmann, chairman of Institute of Travel and Tourism, told MailOnline: ‘It’s an absolute hammer blow to the industry. The EU is about to bring in ‘green passes’ for anyone in the EU to travel freely around Europe, subject to their having been vaccinated or having tested negative.
‘The UK is in real danger of shrinking into splendid isolation whilst at the same time seeing its travel industry die a death of a thousand cuts.
‘The Government delayed 14 days before adding India to the red list, allowing 20,000 people who could have been carrying the new coronavirus strain into the UK. There is just no consistency.’
UK holidaymakers revealed they are planning on cancelling their trips to the country while others said they will not bother going abroad this summer.
One Twitter user said: ‘I’m due to fly to Portugal on Sunday for 7 days, so will be green when I go and amber on return? Will my holiday still go ahead??’
Another tweeted: ’17 days Portugal has been on the green list. How the hell is anyone going to have the confidence to book a foreign holiday? I certainly won’t be whilst this traffic light system is in place.’
One person wrote: ‘@jet2tweets what are our options now with Portugal going amber? Supposed to be going in 3 weeks’.
Another said: ‘It looks liuke my summer holiday is gone, so this week in Portugal is a god send’. Another added: ‘Would be funny if I hadn’t flown to Portugal this morning’.
The Government said the decision to move Portugal to the amber list followed an ‘almost doubling’ in the country’s coronavirus test positivity rate and the discovery of 68 cases of the Indian variant including some with a mutation previously seen in Nepal.
Public Health England is investigating both the Indian variant and the mutation ‘to better understand whether it could be more transmissible and less effectively tackled by vaccines’.
Mr Shapps said ‘decisive action’ will help ‘make sure that we can do a domestic unlock’.
‘We would expect in the ordinary course of events for there to be now a three-week period, obviously subject to if something dramatic comes up we would of course need to make changes elsewhere and we will have to reserve the right to do that to protect the population at home.
‘Look, 67million people have been through a lot this last year and a half, but a lot of people have come forward for their jabs in incredible numbers.
‘No one wants the government to fail to take decisive action to protect that as we look towards this fourth unlock, and we want to give ourselves the best possible chance when we get to that unlock and not have factors from outside – for example potentially vaccine defeating mutation – preventing us from being able to give ourselves the best chance of unlocking domestically.’
Mr Shapps said the UK had ‘done wonders with our vaccination programme and the rest of the world will catch up’.
‘Europe is probably 10 weeks behind but they will catch up and I don’t know exactly what that will mean in terms of the summer but the decisive action today is designed to protect the future, to make sure that we can do a domestic unlock or give ourselves the best possible chance of doing so and that will also help us to unlock international travel given time,’ he added.
‘So we’re not in the same place as last year, we’ve got the vaccination programme, we do need to check though that the vaccine can work against all the kinds of mutations that we’re seeing and so we’re having to take a safety first attitude when it comes to those mutations becoming apparent.’
With Portugal facing a shift to the amber list after ministers meet today, people returning from the country will have to self-isolate for 10 days as well as paying for coronavirus tests.
It will be a huge kick in the teeth to Britons who have already booked a holiday in hot spots such as the Algarve, believing they will be able to return quarantine free.
And it will also be another damaging blow to the already struggling travel industry, which had hoped for more countries to be added to the green list this month.
Yesterday Portugal saw its highest daily number of cases since March. And the country currently has a case rate of around 37 infections per 100,000 people – higher than the UK’s rate of 34.5.
The final decisions were based on an assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the priority was ‘keeping the country safe’.
‘We have got to follow the data and of course, I understand why people want to travel but we’ve got to make sure we keep this country safe, especially because the vaccine programme is going so well,’ he told reporters at a G7 gathering in Oxford this morning.
‘We have seen hospitalisations and deaths come right down and we have to got to protect the progress we have made here at home, whilst allowing for travel where it is safe.
‘You have got to follow the data.’
Mr Johnson hinted at a hard line when he was asked about expanding the green list yesterday, and said: ‘We’re going to try to allow people to travel, as I know that many people want to, but we’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary.
‘I want you to know we will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list to the red list, if we have to do so.
‘The priority is to continue the vaccination rollout, to protect the people of this country.’
In the past, holiday-makers have normally been given days – and sometimes up to a week – to return to the UK from countries where travel restrictions have been changed.
The government has ignored pressure for other countries such as Malta to be added to the green list.
The Mediterranean island, a popular destination for British tourists, is currently on the amber list, but has high vaccination levels and low infections.
The Cayman Islands, Grenada, British Virgin Islands, Finland and some Caribbean islands were also among those being floated for the green list.
Cyprus’ deputy tourism minister yesterday said the country ‘absolutely deserves’ to be in the loosest category.
After today, the green list – which currently contains 12 countries – will not be reviewed until the week running up to June 28.
That means it will be July before there is another chance for more destinations to make it on to the list.