EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren has described as a huge blow the UK’s decision to remove Portugal from its ‘green list’ of countries from which quarantine is not required, just three weeks after the list was established.

Airlines had already been left unimpressed when Portugal was the only large-scale tourism market included on the first list of countries from where quarantine-free travel was permitted under the UK’s new traffic light system.

Heathrow Airport during Covid

Source: Heathrow Airport

The industry had been hoping for some additional markets to join the 12 destinations on the green list. But those hopes were dashed in the first of the UK’s planned regular three-weekly reviews today, as not only were no new countries added to the green list, but Portugal’s status was switched to amber. This reinstates the requirement for travellers from Portugal to quarantine for 10 days after arrival in the UK.

”The situation in Portugal has required swift action to protect the gains made with the vaccine rollout,” says the UK Department for Transport. “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.

”More significantly, according to data published on GISAID, 68 cases of the Delta Variant of Concern have been identified in Portugal, including cases of the Delta variant with an additional, potentially detrimental, mutation,” it adds.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps says: “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.”

Following the announcement, EasyJet’s Lundgren says: ”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,” he says, noting domestic travel is permitted 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,” says Lundgren.

Seven countries – including Sri Lanka and Egypt – have also been added to the red list. All changes to the lists will come into effect at 04:00 on Tuesday 8 June. 

The UK though is carrying out a limited trial from 8 June under which 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 UK is due to review the list again in three weeks’ time, a week after its current roadmap envisages the lifting of remaining coronavirus restrictions within the country.