PORTUGAL has slammed the UK’s decision to move it to the ‘amber list’ in a new blow for British holidaymakers.
The country’s ministers have said it’s hard to grasp the logic behind the demotion, describing it as “unfair and completely inadequate”.
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Portugal has been put on the amber list todayCredit: AFP
Passengers at Heathrow Airport today amid changes to the traffic light systemCredit: Nigel Howard
Portugal was today relegated to Britain’s amber list after ministers sounded the alarm about a worrying new “Nepal mutation” of the Indian variant detected in the holiday hotspot.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this afternoon sent thousands of travel plans up in smoke by advising Brits NOT to go to the popular destination – and making returning passengers self-isolate from 4am next Tuesday.
After the announcement was made public, Portugal’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs tweeted: We take note of the British decision to remove Portugal from its ‘green’ travel list, a decision whose logic is difficult to grasp.
“Portugal continues to carry out its prudent and gradual deconfinement plan, with clear rules for the safety of those who live here or visit us.”
Eduardo Jesus, the Regional Secretary for Culture and Tourism of Madeira, said: “We are already reacting with the British government, presenting a set of arguments we believe are valid, and pointing out that this decision is totally incorrect for Madeira, inadequate and above all, very unfair.”
He told local press: “The reality of Madeira has been different from the national reality for a long time, with a model adopted here for controlling entry and monitoring citizens throughout their stay in the region.
“Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that Madeira is in a much more advanced state with regard to the vaccination process than mainland Portugal and this is also a factor of confidence, not only for those who live here, but also for those who visit us.
“The risk of British citizens traveling to Madeira is reduced by the fact that the overwhelming number of passengers come on direct flights.”
It comes as:
Four planes are due to touch down on Friday in Madeira from the UK – two from London Gatwick, a third from Manchester and a fourth from Birmingham.
But a British bar owner on the Algarve thinks this will do little to save his venue.
Speaking of his heartbreak, Gary Search, 54, who runs Fat Cats and Fat Cats on the Marina – both in the popular holiday resort of Albufeira – said: “One of the bars is 98 per cent British tourists and in the other about 50 per cent of our customers are Brits who are also mostly holidaymakers.
“We’re absolutely devastated by today’s decision.”
He said the bar had “literally just got off the ground” after “scrabbling around all week” but the news has “messed things right up” for his business.
Gary, originally from Southend-on-Sea, added: “We had our finger on the pulse and were more or less aware of what was going on but we really didn’t think it would happen.
“For everyone in the Algarve, not just us but also the tourists, it’s a complete nightmare.”
Joao Fernandes, President of the Algarve Tourist Board, described the UK’s decision to downgrade Portugal from green to amber as a “severe setback”.
He told Portuguese media: “We had a very robust and growing demand for the coming weeks from the British market, with flights increasing their capacity and hotel reservations consolidating.”
He added: “As you can imagine we are bitterly disappointed to be moved to the amber list.
“In the Algarve region we host two thirds of the British overnight hotel stays in Portugal.
“The millions of Brits that visit us each year contribute to the livelihoods of many people in the region.
“Our hotels, tour operators and airline partners will also once again be put in a difficult situation, trying to plan around these ever-changing rules.”
Grant Shapps confirms the changes to Portugal’s status
Confirming Britain’s “difficult but decisive decision” – first revealed by The Sun – Mr Shapps warned 68 cases of the Indian “Delta” Variant had been identified in Portugal.
They include cases of the emerging Nepal mutation – and the minister said it was currently unclear if vaccines were effective against the strain.
Mr Shapps said: “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.”
Whitehall sources said Public Health England were also scrambling to assess if the emerging strain is more infectious.
Portugal’s infection rate has been doubling since it was moved to the green list on May 17.
Amid a furious backlash from hard-hit airlines, the minister acknowledged the industry had “suffered” but pointed to billions in Government bailouts.
And Mr Shapps added: “It’s safety first to get our unlock done at home”.
Portugal turning amber is a bitter blow for holidaymakers who made bookings after Portugal became one of the only European hotpots on the green list from May 17.
Only last week thousands of football fans went to watch the all-English Champions League final in Porto.
The move means anyone coming back will now have to isolate for ten days when they get home – with the option to test to release on day five.
Anyone coming into the country will already have to show a negative Covid test, and pay for more in the days after they land back in Britain.
If they are negative, people will be released from quarantine and can go out of their homes again.
But those on the red list will have to stay in designated hotel quarantine facilities when they come back to the UK.
And they will be forced to use different terminals too so they don’t mix with other passengers in the airport.
Meanwhile, no countries are being added to the green list in a further gut punch for Brits aching for a post-pandemic getaway.
It means their list of potential holiday destinations are limited to a handful of places like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.
Seven countries were also escalated to the red list where travel is banned for all but returning Brits.
Crowd enjoy Brighton beach yesterdayCredit: Alamy
What is the Nepal variant?
By Chris Pollard
THE so-called Nepal variant is a combination of the Kent and Indian mutations – making it potentially deadly.
The new strain has the super-spreading ability of the Indian “Delta” variant with an extra mutation, known as K417N, like the Kent “Beta” one.
Dr Jeff Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said this may make it highly transmissible and “less well neutralised by vaccines”.
He said: “Because of this possibility, scientists are monitoring it carefully.”
The new variant, informally known as “Delta+K417N”, has been seen in numerous countries including the UK, Portugal, USA and India.
It has also been observed once in Nepal and 14 times in Japan, of which 13 were samples from airport quarantine from travellers from Nepal.
Just 91 cases in total have been seen worldwide.A member of the government’s SAGE committee of experts said people should not be too concerned, adding: “There are thousands of variants. This is a virus that is changing all the time.”
Britain finally opened up its international travel again from May 17, and the green list is set to be updated at least every three weeks.
The PM yesterday appeared downbeat about adding too many nations to the safe travel list, saying he would not hesitate to slam them on the red or amber list if he had to.
The PM added: “We’re going to try to allow people to travel, as I know many 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.
“The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout, to protect the people of this country.”
The Department for Transport has previously warned that Brits should be wary that countries can be taken off the green list with little notice – which could spark holiday chaos over the summer months.
Assessments on whether a country is on the red, amber or green list are based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
The vaccination programme is seen as key in the bid to reopen the country and beyond.
It was confirmed on Wednesday that 75 per cent of UK adults across the UK had now had their first coronavirus jab, and 50 per cent of adults in England had received both doses.
Despite the amber warnings, Brits have been heading to amber-list Spain and Greece in recent weeks, going against warnings from the UK government.
Turning Portugal amber is a blow for Brits
By LISA MINOT, Travel Editor
SLAMMING Portugal onto the amber list means holidays for now are reserved just for the rich and retired.
The holiday hotspot was our only hope for a bit of serious sizzling sun and sand without the need for quarantine on return.
But now with poor Portugal looking to be put on the amber list it puts the travel plans of millions are thrown into disarray.
The shattered travel industry – taking its very first tentative steps towards recovery after a devastating 14 months that saw it paralysed by the pandemic – is right back to square one.
After so little time on the government’s green list – and without the notice that putting it onto the green watchlist could have provided – once again holidaymakers will be scrabbling to change their plans at the very last moment.
It seems pointless to continue with this traffic light system – why doesn’t the government just admit they don’t want us travelling anywhere right now and be honest with people?
What we are seeing is a return to the chaos of last summer’s travel corridors despite the fact the UK has one of the world’s most successful vaccine rollouts.
Those who can afford to buy the three tests required to visit an amber country and can take the time to quarantine may well be able to continue with their plans but for most that is just not possible.
It will also mean yet again tour operators having to cancel holidays if the country is also added back to the list of destinations that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advise against all but essential travel to.
Despite all our sacrifices, it seems this is still going to be a summer of chaos and confusion for travellers.
Brits are flocking to Spain despite quarantine rules when they returnCredit: Getty
People walk towards the Seven Sisters Cliffs, near Birling Gap, in East Sussex as others opt for staycationsCredit: Reuters