Portugal’s tourism chief condemned the UK’s decision to remove the country from green ‘safe’ travel status as thousands of British holidaymakers scrambled to return before 4am on Tuesday to avoid quarantine.
Turismo de Portugal president Luis Araújo insisted all necessary precautions had been taken to ensure the safety of visitors.
He said: “We are extremely disappointed to hear that the UK government has made the decision to remove Portugal from the green list.
“We fully maintain and stress unwavering confidence in the safety of the nation and thank the support of all our partners and friends in the UK, especially our trading partners that have been essential in quickly reinstating flight capacity into Portugal.
“Our country is open and prepared to welcome any tourist and we have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our visitors and residents.”
His comments came as weekend media reports suggested health secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove rejected plans to put Portugal on a watchlist to give holidaymakers a chance to get home rather than abruptly place it in the amber category requiring ten days self-isolation at home.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps and the Treasury argued that Portugal should go on a watchlist and that Malta should be added to the quarantine free green list, according to the Sunday Times.
A ministerial source reportedly said: “Hancock doesn’t think anyone should be going abroad on holiday this year. He is killing British travel abroad.
“If we are going to follow scientific advice to stop people travelling we should be following scientific advice if they say people can travel.”
Experts from the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) are thought to have considered the case for additions curbs on Portugal as being marginal.
But Hancock was concerned that the government could be accused of not acting soon enough if Covid cases in the country continued to rise.
JBC data showed just three Covid cases out of 200 travellers from Portugal between May 6-19.
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “We essentially have a pretend traffic light system. They have ignotred teir own recommendations and led an enture industry down the garden path.
“It’s clear that many in government don’t want international travel this summer. They should have the decency to tell us so we and our passengers can plan accordingly.”
Travellers were warned of waits of up to four hours at a testing site in a car park at Faro airport.
Araújo insisted: “Portugal has been controlling the evolution of the pandemic, has one of the lowest indicators of cases per population and a robust national health system.
“Our country is amongst the European countries with the highest proportion of national testing and our vaccination strategy aims to have the entire adult population inoculated by August. We firmly believe that, considering the above, now is the time to safely restore movement between countries, balancing public health measures with connectivity and mobility.
He added: “The demand for Portuguese holidays has been increasing, reflected in the gradual resumption of air connectivity – short-term recovery of air routes of more than 400 flights per week, throughout June and 500 foreseen for July.
“Our optimism remains unaffected and our stance clear. We are more than ready to safely welcome visitors, especially the British, and we will stand by our mission of providing the best touristic experience with the highest safety standards.”
Which? Travel editor, Rory Boland said: “People understand that the current public health situation will sometimes require changes to the traffic light lists at short notice, but the government needs to be upfront about how the system works so people can make informed decisions about their travel plans.
“The government had suggested more notice would be given this summer in moving countries between traffic lights, including the use of a green watchlist, so travellers will be upset that they now face huge bills to try and get home before the quarantine requirements come in.
“Demand for flights has inevitably soared, and while it’s good to hear airlines are running additional flights to help accommodate this, we cannot see a return of the rip-off fares of last summer when customers trying to get home were held to ransom for huge sums of money.”