Hopes of a recovery in 2021 have been dealt a “bodyblow” with the removal of Portugal from the UK’s green list and seven further countries added to the red list, according to Airlines UK.
UK border controls were tightened yesterday after the government’s first traffic light review on international travel. Portugal, including Madeira and the Azores, were previously considered the only viable European holiday destination for UK travellers to visit without the requirement to quarantine on their return. The country was moved to the amber list to guard public health against virus mutations and variants of concern. Seven more countries which include Sri Lanka and Egypt, were added to the red list. Changes to the lists will come into effect at 4am on Tuesday June 8.
The move has sparked anger from airlines, the travel industry and trade body ADS who have warned that the stalled recovery of international travel could result in job losses for the struggling industries and economic consequences of the UK becoming “cut off” from the rest of the world.
Delta variant accounts for 75 per cent of UK infections
England’s reopening on June 21 – the date set out in the roadmap out of lockdown when most restrictions would be moved – is also hanging in the balance following data from Public Health England which shows that the Delta variant, previously known as the Indian variant, is now becoming the more dominant strain in the UK, now accounting for 75 per cent of infection cases in the UK. The variant is reported to cause more serious illness and is also reported to be spreading in schools. A decision on the loosening of further restrictions is due by June 14.
A statement issued by the Department for Transport said the situation in Portugal had required “swift action to protect the gains made with the vaccine rollout.” It added there has been “an almost doubling in the COVID-19 test positivity rate in Portugal since the first review for traffic light allocations, far exceeding the ONS estimated national positivity rate in the UK.”
Data also showed that there were 68 cases of the Delta variant of concern identified in Portugal, including cases of the variant which had an additional, potentially detrimental, mutation. The variant and mutation are currently being investigated by Public Health England to better understand whether it could be more transmissible and less effectively tackled by vaccines. The classification changes were decided by ministers, informed by data and analysis by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and wider public health factors, to help people understand the risks to public health from travellers returning from different destinations.
“Cautious approach to reopening international travel”
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.”
Additions to the ‘red list’ includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad & Tobago. COVID-19 prevalence is assessed to be high in red list countries with evidence to suggest community transmission of variants of concern.
People returning to the UK require proof of a negative test, taken within three days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs. Those returning from amber countries must also book and pay for day two and day eight Covid-19 travel tests for when they return to the UK; only the day 2 test is required for those returning from green countries.
The Government is also announcing that as part of a limited trial, from June 8, direct flights will be permitted to England from countries on the ‘red list’ that were previously subject to flight bans, so long as they arrive at dedicated terminals at Heathrow and Birmingham airports. The dedicated facilities will help keep red list passengers separate from other arrivals before travelling straight to their managed quarantine hotel.
Aside from Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel, the initial 12-destination green list mainly comprised places – such as Australia, New Zealand, the Falkland Islands and Iceland – which did not allow entry to Britons.
UK could become “cut off from the rest of the world”
Airlines UK has warned the shrinking of the green list would result in the UK becoming cut off from the rest of the world. Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: “This is a fresh body blow for families desperate to get away and see their loved ones this summer, and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the travel industry, who are in grave danger of being forgotten.”
“Despite vaccinating millions more people both in the UK and Portugal, we have actually gone backwards since the original country list was published. The vaccine dividend we had built up has now been eroded, and the UK will fall further behind the rest of the EU who are safely opening up their tourism sectors and removing restrictions for vaccinated passengers.”
“This is no way to treat passengers. The Government promised a Green watchlist to avoid this very scenario of people being stranded overseas – where is it? This decision just adds to the belief that Ministers don’t actually want international travel this summer, and want to cut off the UK from the rest of the world despite the success of the vaccination programme. If that is the case they should be open and tell us rather than leading us and our customers further down this painful merry dance, and put in place longer-term support measures for an industry now on its knees.”
“Industry and public need a resilient system” – ADS
ADS Chief Executive Kevin Craven added: “The aerospace industry continues to be severely impacted by international travel restrictions. Today’s changes to the travel lists will cause further uncertainty to passengers and the wider aviation sector. Both the industry and the public need a resilient system that minimises the need for frequent changes to country classifications.”
“The system should give clarity, while keeping the costs of testing low and creating a clear pathway for internationally recognised COVID certification that allows quarantine requirements to be removed. Successful vaccination programmes in the UK and elsewhere, including in the US and Europe, are enabling our battered economies to reopen and reconnecting with our major international trading partners will be a significant contributor to a full recovery.”
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow airport, said: “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.”