Britain faced a backlash on Thursday night from Portugal, one of our most popular tourist destinations, after ditching it from a list of 74 countries and territories that English holidaymakers can visit without quarantine.
Canada, the USA, China and Thailand were also excluded from the “amber” and “green” lists of countries to which English holidaymakers can fly and avoid quarantine on their return to the UK from Friday, July 10.
Among those included on the lists were short-haul destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus, as well as long-haul locations including Australia, Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam.
However, Portugal, where the Algarve is rated the third most popular European holiday spot for Britons, was left off because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases in and around Lisbon.
Portugal’s foreign ministry said in a tweet it was “absurd” that Britain imposed quarantine on travellers coming from Portugal despite having 28 times more deaths from the coronavirus.
“We hope that this decision, which seems to us profoundly unfair and wrong from the British authorities, is corrected as soon as possible,” said Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva. “It is a sad moment in bilateral relations because countries that are friends treat each other differently.”
João Fernandes, Algarve Tourism Board president, pointed to the low rate of the disease in his region, accounting for just 0.5 per cent of national cases. “We are talking about a country that is safe, which in May was referred to as an international example even by the United Kingdom itself.”
The three million Britons who travel to Portugal – a traditional trading partner of the UK – account for nearly a fifth of all its tourists.
The USA, Brazil, Sweden and Russia were also left off the list because of their comparatively high coronavirus rates, which risked importing cases into the UK.
On Thursday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the USA was not included as “they have got very high numbers of infections”, despite the threat of a backlash from Donald Trump’s administration. The US already bans people entering the country from the UK and Europe.
However, Greece, which Mr Shapps suggested only on Thursday morning was not on the exempt lists, was included despite its suspension of flights from the UK until July 15. Sources suggested inter-Government talks had secured their resumption in 11 days.
Some of the countries with the lowest rates of coronavirus and rated “green” will continue to impose restrictions on Britons despite the UK lifting quarantine on them.
These include Australia and New Zealand, which have effectively closed their borders and are expected to continue to remain shut until Christmas – also Malta, Cyprus, Hungary, Barbados, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
Travellers to Ireland will also be exempt from quarantine on their return to the UK as it is part of the Common Travel Area. But the Irish Government has indicated it expects to impose a 14-day quarantine on Britons from July 9 when it opens its borders to a “green list” of overseas countries because of the UK’s higher coronavirus rate.
Countries rated “amber” like France, the Netherlands, which had imposed quarantine on the UK and Greece, are understood to have agreed, or be close to agreeing, reciprocal deals which will lift restrictions for holidaymakers on both legs of their journeys.
On Friday, the Foreign Office updated its advice against all but essential overseas travel for all of the 74 countries and territories.
It technically means that foreign holidays will be possible for the first time in more than three months from Friday, although people would need to spend at least six days at their destination to avoid the need to quarantine when landing back in England.
Passengers will still be required to provide contact information on arrival in England. Anyone self-isolating because they have arrived or returned from a green or amber country before July 10 will be able to stop from that date.
Approved destinations pose “a reduced risk to the public health of UK citizens”, but the list will be kept “under constant review”, the DfT said.
It means new destinations could be added to the “green” and “amber” lists before the next review date later this month, or removed if there is a major surge in coronavirus.
Such outbreaks which would lead to the immediate reintroduction of quarantine for holidaymakers returning to the UK.
The Department for Transport said risk assessments were conducted by the Joint Biosecurity Centre in consultation with Public Health England and the chief medical officer, considering each country’s prevalence of coronavirus, the number of new cases and the potential trajectory of the disease.
In tandem, the Foreign Office lifted its ban on non-essential travel on a further 14 countries because of the reduced risk from coronavirus since it imposed the restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
Ironically this included Portugal, but also Canada, with which the UK was unable to agree a deal to lift its tough restrictions on foreign visitors including those from Britain.
Others included Slovakia, Slovenia, Thailand and Singapore, which have low rates of coronavirus but which also impose tough quarantine or other curbs on international arrivals.
People resident in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not part of the scheme because the UK Government was unable to convince the devolved administrations to sign off on the plan before it was made public.
It descended into recriminations on Thursday, with political leaders of the administrations, accusing the UK Government of chaotic last-minute changes to the lists and a lack of consultation.
Scotland’s First Minster Nicola Sturgeon said the UK Government’s decision-making on air bridges had been “shambolic”.
She said: “When so much is at stake as it is right now we can’t allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of, to be quite frank about it, another government’s shambolic decision process.”
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said dealing with the UK Government over the last few days was “an utterly shambolic experience.”
The three administrations will announce within days whether they will adopt the English plan, or seek unilaterally to impose quarantine on their own country’s holidaymakers, a move that police said was unenforceable, and aviation leaders warned could seriously damage the economy.
There was even confusion on Thursday night, when the DfT initially published its list of countries without its traffic light system of red, amber and green labels for destinations – then announced it would be doing so but only on an informal basis.
The requirement for everyone arriving into the UK – bar a handful of exemptions – to self-isolate for 14 days was introduced on June 8. It was met with fierce criticism over the impact on the UK’s travel, tourism and hospitality industries, including a high court action.
On Thursday, British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet announced they were dropping their legal action against the blanket quarantine.
“The blanket quarantine was irrational and has seriously damaged the economy and the travel, industry. Friday’s publication of a list of countries is a first step. We look forward to the continued lifting of the quarantine from safe countries,” they said.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, on Thursday backed one of the central contentions of the airlines’ claims.
“Our advice has been clear that quarantine makes most sense and can be used effectively when people are coming from different countries with higher infection rates than the ones we have here, and that’s where quarantine is a measure that would make a difference,” he said.
A spokesman for trade association Airlines UK said: “There’s no doubt quarantine has had a devastating impact on our industry and whilst it’s welcome the Government has removed its blanket ban, we would encourage rigour and science is applied in all future decisions surrounding our businesses.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency and member of the Quash Quarantine campaign group, said: “There are still several obstacles to be overcome, namely ensuring Scotland supports the planned changes. But this is a welcome boost for the travel industry at such a critical time.”