The government has confirmed Portugal will move from green to the amber list of destinations “to guard public health against variants of concern” following the first review of the traffic light system.
The Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed there would be no additions to the green list and that the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores would also move to amber from 4am on Tuesday, requiring travellers returning to the UK to quarantine at home for 10 days.
Seven countries, including Egypt and Sri Lanka, will move from amber to the red list meaning mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals.
In a statement, the government said the reclassification of Portugal was “to safeguard public health against variants of concern and protect our vaccine roll-out”.
The decision followed “increased concern in the spread of variants of coronavirus, including a mutation of the Delta variant [previously known as the Indian variant] and the risk that is posed of bringing these back to the UK if people are not required to quarantine”.
The statement said: “The situation in Portugal has required swift action to protect the gains made with the vaccine roll-out – 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 . . . 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.
“Public Health England are investigating this variant and mutation to better understand whether it could be more transmissible and less effectively tackled by vaccines, potentially putting our progress with the roadmap at risk.”
It insisted: “All classification changes have been decided by ministers, informed by the latest data and analysis by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and wider public health factors.”
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 roll-out.
“While we are making great progress in the UK with the vaccine roll-out, we continue to say that the public should not travel to destinations outside the green list.”
The full list of countries added to the red list comprises Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad & Tobago.
The government again urged people “not to travel to amber classified destinations . . . due to the prevalence of variants of concern and general rates of coronavirus being greater in amber destinations, meaning the risk to public health is also greater”.
It said 100% health checks at the border would be maintained and warned again that queue waiting times at airports “may be longer than usual”.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Increases in case rates in the UK serve as a reminder that this pandemic is not over yet and we need to take a cautious approach.
In a partial change, the government announced that from June 8 direct flights will be permitted to England from countries on the ‘red list’ that were previously subject to flight bans as part of a limited trial. These flights will arrive at dedicated facilities at Heathrow and Birmingham only.