Portugal will be taken off England’s “green list” of permitted foreign holiday destinations and no new countries will be added this week, in a significant blow to the leisure industry ahead of the summer season.
Airlines had expected at least a handful of destinations to be opened up later on Thursday, when ministers outline the first changes to the so-called traffic light system for overseas travel since it was unveiled last month.
Instead, Portugal will come off the revised list of countries from which people do not need to quarantine on their return, according to two people briefed on the matter. One Whitehall official involved in the process confirmed it would go on to the “amber list” at 4am on Tuesday.
Another government insider said that it was a rise in variants that prompted ministers to decide to take it off the green list. “They’re victim of their own pretty decent genomic capabilities. They’ve picked up increases in both the Indian and Nepalese variants so there was little choice.”
The decision to take Portugal off the green list was also influenced by the Johnson government’s eagerness to lift all lockdown restrictions on June 21. “There’s no way we can meet the step four easing if we’re importing more variants of concern,” an official said.
Passengers returning from an amber list country have to self-isolate for 10 days on their return, and take two expensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus tests during that period.
The decision will throw tens of thousands of people’s holiday plans into chaos and cause dismay in the travel industry.
Shares in leading European airlines fell on Thursday afternoon, with British Airways owner International Airlines Group and easyJet both down 5 per cent, and Ryanair slipping 3 per cent.
The changes will evoke memories of last summer when passengers rushed to return to the UK at short notice when countries were moved out of an earlier “travel corridor” system.
Afghanistan, Sudan and Egypt will be added to the red list, meaning passengers arriving from those countries face 10 days compulsory hotel quarantine.
Only a dozen countries or territories were put on the green list when it was first unveiled last month as part of England’s traffic light system. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have unveiled broadly similar systems.
The leisure industry has been lobbying for popular holiday destinations to be added to the green list.
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