Transport secretary Grant Shapps defended the government’s limited list of just 12 destinations to which travel can resume from May 17 as “necessarily cautious” but insisted it “will be a fast-developing situation”.
The government confirmed only Portugal and Madeira of the most-popular holiday destinations would be on the initial green list of countries under the traffic-light system for restarting international travel today and Shapps stressed the Covid-19 tests required even of travellers returning from these.
But he said: “This is just the first step. Every three weeks we will be reviewing how we can expand the green list. We have to turn the key slowly.”
Shapps noted green-list countries “will be placed on a watch list if we have any concerns” and warned: “It is up to you to check thoroughly the restrictions applying.
“Our strong advice is not to book a holiday that does not offer a refund if Covid travel advice changes.”
He said: “I accept it is a slow and deliberate process. I know there will be people who want us to go further. But for now we must tread carefully.
“There are two points at which we will have reviews. The Joint Biosecurity Centre will review the lists every three weeks and the review checkpoints [of June 28, July 30 and October 1] mean we will look at what happens in the green, amber and red traffic-light process.”
He promised: “This will be a fast-developing situation.
“The reason this is cautious is that there are not more places in the fortunate position the UK is in. This is not a list generated to twist the science to fit where people want to lie on beaches. That would betray the sacrifices people have made.
“We need to give other places in the world time to catch up. We can’t throw it all away by adding some holiday destinations. Our success in combatting Covid here is not yet replicated in many places abroad.”
But he insisted: “We will gradually see an opening up.”
Shapps also promised that “both the methodology and the data [behind the lists] is going to be published”.
He dismissed a suggestion that the UK was lagging behind other countries in opening its borders, saying: “Other countries do not have their systems for international travel in place yet.
Quizzed on what the devolved administrations would do, Shapps said: “All the chief medical officers have agreed to the traffic-light system
“There have been elections and the governments are in flux so it may take a few days to clarify. But we will be working from the same traffic light system and likely the picture will be broadly the same.”