Holidaymakers scramble to get back from Portugal before quarantine begins

3 June 2021, 17:06 | Updated: 4 June 2021, 14:51

  • Portugal moves on to 'amber list' on Tuesday
  • Holidaymakers face scramble to secure flights home or quarantine and costly tests
  • Officials in Portugal question logic of UK decision
  • Heathrow boss says move guarantees "another lost summer for the travel sector".

By Will Taylor

Holidaymakers in Portugal face a scramble back to the UK before quarantine rules come into force at 4am on Tuesday.

Thousands of holidaymakers are expected to cancel trips, and those already in the country are urgently trying to get home or face spending 10 days in quarantine.

From Tuesday when the country moves onto the amber list, people will have to quarantine at home for ten days after visiting, and pay for and take two Covid tests, on days two and eight.

As an example, a British family of four in Portugal would now face having to pay £1,000 to buy all the needed PCR tests at £125 each.

Officials in Portugal have questioned the "logic" of the decision to add the country onto the UK's 'amber' list of travel destinations.

The Twitter account of the cabinet of Portugal's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs tweeted in English: "We take note of the British decision to remove Portugal from the travel 'green list', the logic of which we cannot understand.

"Portugal continues to carry out its prudent and gradual deconfinement plan, with clear rules for the safety of those who live here and those who visit us."

The news came as a major blow to travel companies and tourists who have booked the popular hotspot.

Northamptonshire travel agent Lisa Hilliyard says the move is devastating for the industry: “I’ve got holidays to change for clients which we’ve changed 3, 4, and in some cases 5 times."

“I think it will cause unnerving concerns for people who thought they may well travel this summer and know they might be thinking ‘do you know what, I can’t even think about it.”

Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye has accused the Government of "all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector".

He said: "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."

It was previously, briefly, in the green list, which includes all countries that can be travelled to and from with visitors only needing to provide a negative Covid test before going and taking another one after arriving.

All countries on the amber and red list require some form of quarantine upon arrival in order to deter people from visiting them. Most nations are either listed amber or red.

The changes for Portugal will take effect from 4am on Tuesday.

Read more: Travel sector reacts furiously to Portugal's removal from green list

Read more: Portugal decision due to 'Nepal variant' but WHO 'unaware' of strain

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."

Portugal's case rate has nearly doubled since the Government last reviewed travel arrangements and 68 cases of the Indian, or Delta, variant have been found there, the Department for Transport said.

Madeira and the Azores have also been put on the amber list.

Meanwhile, seven countries, including Sri Lanka and Egypt, have been added to the red list.

Read more: Half of UK adults have received both Covid jabs, new figures show

Watch: Decision not to add more green list countries is 'political' - travel expert

The news comes after Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary told LBC the vaccine programme should remove the need for what he called "crazy" PCR tests on tourists, and that vaccinated people should be allowed to travel more freely.

Responding, 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."

Read more: EU: 'Scrap quarantine and testing for Europeans with vaccine passports'

Watch: Vaccines will remove need for 'crazy' PCR tests for travel - Ryanair chief

Experts are fearful opening up travel could expose the UK to new cases of Covid and variants.

Although vaccines are expected to work against variants, and AstraZeneca is now specifically targeting the one first identified in South Africa, fears remain they could begin to evade immunity.

The UK operates a traffic light system, ranking countries by how much risk ministers and scientific advisers view each destination with regards to importing new Covid cases or variants.

Since more foreign travel was approved in May, there have been a dozen countries on the green list.

Passengers do not have to quarantine when returning from those countries to England but do have to provide a negative test result and take one on their second day after arriving.

Arrivals from amber list countries must take a Covid test, book one for day two and eight after arriving in England, and quarantine for 10 days, with the possibility of leaving early if testing negative.

People returning from red list countries must quarantine in a managed hotel and take two Covid tests after arriving.

Boris Johnson has previously warned that he would not accept an "influx of disease from anywhere else".

"We have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up," he said.