Grant Shapps refuses to confirm if holiday Green List will be expanded
Are holidays off the table? Grant Shapps refuses to confirm major destinations will be on the green list this summer due to the threat of Covid variants as he hints vaccines hold the key
- Grant Shapps said ministers will be ‘super cautious’ over opening foreign travel
- The government removed Portugal from the green travel list over Covid-19 fears
- Shapps has not warned people against booking trips to popular destinations
- Airlines are putting on extra flights from Portugal so Britons can return early
Summer holidays to our favourite European hotspots looked in doubt last night as Grant Shapps refused to confirm major destinations would be on the green list.
The Transport Secretary said ministers must be ‘super cautious’ over the reopening of foreign travel.
He told the Mail the Government couldn’t afford to ‘take any chances’ due to the perceived threat of new Covid variants at holiday destinations.
Britons hoping for a foreign holiday this summer face a confusing choice after Portugal was moved from the green to amber list leaving thousands of people at risk of quarantine unless they can fly home before Tuesday
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, pictured, said he would not advise Britons against booking foreign holidays, though he acknowledged that such trips to places such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy may not be possible before August
He stopped short of saying travellers should not book holidays, adding that it was ‘hard to know’ whether trips to hotspots such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy would be possible before August.
It came as the sudden decision to downgrade Portugal from green to amber saw thousands rushing to return to the UK yesterday before quarantine rules kick in.
Airlines scrambled to lay on extra planes so holidaymakers in Portugal can rebook return flights to make it back by Tuesday’s deadline.
At one point, the cost of a seat on the last plane out of Faro on Monday night hit £771. Prices fell as airlines laid on more flights.
It is estimated that 112,000 Britons are currently in Portugal on holiday.
EasyJet said it was laying on 1,000 extra seats, on routes from Faro to Gatwick, Luton, Bristol and Manchester airports.
British Airways said it was chartering an extra plane tomorrow and another on Monday.
But families who can’t get a seat, or choose to stay and quarantine on return, face extra testing bills. Passengers returning from an amber country have to take two post-arrival tests, rather than one for green countries.
Two jabs will get you into France
France will begin accepting fully vaccinated Britons into the country for leisure trips from Wednesday.
Those who have been double-jabbed will be allowed to enter France with proof of a negative test and will no longer need a ‘compelling reason’ to be there.
Fully vaccinated Britons will also escape having to do a seven-day quarantine on arrival, which is required because Britain is on France’s amber list. But they will still need to isolate upon their return to Britain because France remains on the UK’s amber list.
The border opening will also allow EU passport holders living in the UK to enter France without any proof of testing at all.
If travellers opt to pay for a third post-arrival test on day five to allow early release, the bill would be hundreds more.
The average price of a PCR post-arrival test from Government-approved private providers is about £111 but the cheapest is £44.
Yesterday, angry travel industry leaders called on ministers to publish the data on which they base their country ranking decisions. In a letter to Mr Shapps, Airlines UK, which represents all the major UK-registered carriers, said the downgrading of Portugal had come as both a ‘shock and severe blow’ to the industry.
It added it was concerned the Government was seeking to ‘curtail air travel rather than facilitate it where it is safe to do so’ and that ‘decisions on country allocation remain clouded in mystery, making it impossible for airlines and our customers to plan’.
The trade body also demanded to know why no new low-risk destinations were added to the green list, despite low infection rates in locations such as Malta, the Balearic Islands and some Greek islands. It said the key thresholds for when countries turn a different colour should also be published.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of travel agent group Advantage Travel Partnership, said the decision to take Portugal off the green list was ‘an absolute devastating blow for consumers and the industry of a really seismic scale’, and that it ‘throws confidence completely out of the window’.
The UK has a seven-day average infection rate of 35 per 100,000 of the population, similar to Portugal’s. Professor Henrique Barros, president of Portugal’s National Health Council, branded the move ‘an overreaction’.
Ministers removed Portugal from the green list on Thursday after just three weeks, citing a doubling of case numbers and the ‘Nepal variant’. But Professor Barros said: ‘We didn’t reach such an increase, except as I said in a specific area around Lisbon.’
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday said he was not aware of any cases of the Nepal variant in the UK but that Portuguese scientists had detected it.
Britons face a race against time to come back to the UK ahead of Tuesday morning’s deadline moving Portugal from the green to amber list
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We took the decision that it was better to be cautious whilst we learn about this new mutation of the variant.’
Asked yesterday whether European hotspots could go on the green list before August, Mr Shapps told the Mail: ‘It’s very hard to know and it’s of course very largely dependent on how well other places are doing with their vaccine programme.
‘It’s a fact [that] we got a very long way ahead with our vaccine programme… but obviously it will help as other countries catch up.
‘It’s very hard to make predictions other than to say we’ve just got to give ourselves the best possible chance of unlocking domestically and I think most people feel the same way about this – let’s not take any chances.’ He added: ‘Nobody wants to restrict people’s freedom to go on holiday… but we just have to be super cautious.’
Last night, Labour wrote to the Government to say that amber countries Thailand and Vietnam should be added to the red list due to concerns over new variants.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow home secretary, said: ‘It beggars belief that Conservative ministers opened up an ambiguous ‘amber list’, causing mass confusion and allowing thousands of people to travel to the UK from countries, including Thailand and Vietnam, with rising Covid numbers.’
Ditched, promise of free tests before families fly home
By Claire Ellicott and David Churchill
Ministers have been accused of abandoning plans to slash the price of holidays abroad by allowing families to bring free rapid Covid-19 tests with them.
A scheme to allow holidaymakers to take a lateral flow test before returning to Britain was considered earlier this year. But sources said the money to pay for it was due to run out this month – and no plans to replace the funding have been announced.
There were concerns about whether the tests would gain official approval due to the difficulty of proving when they are taken, as well as questions over their accuracy.
It means that ministers have missed an opportunity to save hard-pressed families money when they go abroad.
Ministers have been accused of abandoning plans to slash the price of holidays abroad by allowing families to bring free rapid Covid-19 tests with them
Cheaper and faster lateral flow tests are currently being handed out for free by the Government for anyone who needs them. And airlines have argued that the UK is holding passengers to far higher standards than other countries by refusing to allow the rapid tests, which ministers deem good enough for schools. The failure to provide the free tests means families who go abroad are having to pay out for pre-return tests in order to be able to return to the UK.
Although the NHS lateral flow tests are CE-approved – meaning they meet certain safety and specification standards – travellers have to be supervised while taking them.
This is partly so people can receive official documentation stating the time the test was taken and the official result to show at the UK border on return. But it would potentially mean arranging for NHS workers to supervise people taking the tests over an online video call, something for which there are precious little resources.
It means families have been forced to look to private providers. British Airways offers a pre-return test which is supervised via an online video call for £39.
This would add more than £150 to the bill for a holiday for a family of four, or nearly £200 for a family of five if their children were aged 11 or over. Paying for a clinician in a foreign country to administer one could lead to an even bigger bill.
The cost of tests from private providers has fallen overall as more firms have entered the market. But of the more than 300 government-approved providers listed online the average overall price of a single PCR test is still more than £100.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, one of 17 MPs who signed a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling on him to scrap VAT on PCR tests, said the Government must deliver on its pledge to provide free pre-return testing devices which people could pack in their luggage to take with them. He said: ‘They need to come through with the free tests. There’s a desperate need for them to deliver on that promise for the British public and the airlines and airport operators.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We want to keep travel as safe as possible and lateral flow tests are widely available at low costs in most green list countries. We are seeing how we can further reduce costs by continuing to work with travel industry and private testing providers.’
We face a scramble to get all-clear
Property developer Simon Smith was yesterday scrambling around trying to find Covid tests in order to leave Portugal before UK quarantine rules kick in.
Mr Smith, from Stamford, Lincolnshire, visited five medical centres and a hospital to try to get his family tested.
He was with his wife and two children, aged two and four, at the family villa in the Lagos area when the Government announced it was moving the country on to the amber list.
The family has used the property only once since purchasing it last year and had flown to the Algarve to carry out preparatory work for guests.
Property developer Simon Smith was yesterday scrambling around trying to find Covid tests in order to leave Portugal before UK quarantine rules kick in
Instead, Mr Smith said the last day had been blighted by people calling to cancel their stays. He described the change in status as a ‘real kick in the teeth’. ‘There has just been no thought into it at all,’ he said.
‘I thought the whole idea of the green list was that they were going to monitor it and give people plenty of time and notice to get flights and sort out problems with testing.’ The family has managed to book flights out of Portugal this morning at 10am in the hope of beating the new rules.
But in order to leave, they first have to arrange Covid tests in Portugal.
The family has been told the airport has a small amount of tests available, so plan on turning up five hours early.
‘If we can’t get that, we can’t fly,’ said Mr Smith. ‘Then we’re going to be stuck here. I have meetings on Friday, I can’t afford ten days’ quarantine, it is a joke.’
Strife begins at 40 … pals’ birthday Lisbon trip axed
As the only one of her close-knit group of childhood friends who did not turn 40 during lockdown, Nina Hands thought they could celebrate her milestone in style.
But their decision to travel to Lisbon for a long weekend of birthday celebrations was this week left in tatters after Portugal went on the amber list.
The PR agency owner said that the group of six had been left racked with disappointment after deciding to cancel the trip on July 24.
Nina Hands, pictured, hoped she and her friends could celebrate her 40th birthday in Portugal
Miss Hands, 39, said: ‘The other girls have already missed their fortieth birthdays because of lockdown so we all decided to go to Lisbon for three nights to celebrate mine
Miss Hands, 39, said: ‘The other girls have already missed their fortieth birthdays because of lockdown so we all decided to go to Lisbon for three nights to celebrate mine.
‘We are really disappointed and just hope we can move it to another time.’
And like many other travellers whose holidays abroad were scuppered, they are also struggling to find an alternative plan in the UK due to a surge in domestic bookings.
The group of friends have known each other since they were 11 and had vowed to travel abroad together every year.
Miss Hands added: ‘We booked towards the beginning of the year in the depths of lockdown when we wanted something to look forward to. We took out travel insurance and we were all just hopeful that by July everything would have lifted.’
While the businesswoman accepted there was a risk attached to the flight, she said they could not afford to quarantine for ten days upon their return to the UK.
‘It’s just the back and forth [of the travel rules] that is really frustrating,’ she said.
‘We are all in a predicament now as there is nothing left in the UK. We would even go camping but everything is booked.’
The group has received the money back for their hotel and is awaiting confirmation that their flights with easyJet and Portugese airline Tap Air will be refunded.
Holiday chaos guide you can’t leave ho me without
By Harriet Sime and Tom Chesshyre
A key factor in deciding which countries are given the green light for holidays is their infection rate.
In the UK it currently stands at 35 per 100,000 in the past seven days but is much lower in many popular destinations.
Decisions on the Government’s international travel traffic light system are based on assessments by the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
In addition to infection rates, it also takes into account the proportion of the country’s population vaccinated, emerging new variants and access to reliable scientific data combined with genomic sequencing to detect emerging variants.
Decisions on the Government’s international travel traffic light system are based on assessments by the Joint Biosecurity Centre
Which countries may go green this summer?
MALTA: The Mediterranean island is a prime candidate and was widely tipped to be added to the green list on Monday due to its low infection rate of seven per 100,000 in the past seven days and high vaccination rate – 72 per cent of adults have received their first dose. The country reopened its borders to British tourists with proof of a negative PCR test result on Monday.
GREECE: Hopes were high that Santorini and Mykonos would turn green on Monday but the mainland and all its islands remain amber. The Greek government has been prioritising tourist-reliant islands in its vaccination campaign. Other islands that could be added in the next review on June 28 include Rhodes, Kefalonia, Kos, Zakynthos, Corfu and Crete.
SPAIN: The Balearics and Canaries were tipped to turn green this week, with infection rates of 33 and 38 per 100,000 respectively. The adult population in Spain is unlikely to be fully vaccinated until September and the Balearics are lagging behind the rest of the country, with only 16 per cent jabbed. British tourists are welcome in Spain restriction-free, although those travelling to the Canaries must provide evidence of a negative PCR or antigen test.
The Balearics and Canaries were tipped to turn green this week, with infection rates of 33 and 38 per 100,000 respectively
CARIBBEAN: Several popular islands could be added to the green list at the next review, including Barbados, Grenada and Antigua. Grenada is one of the few countries with an infection rate of zero, while in Barbados it is six per 100,000. Antigua and Barbuda has a rate of just three in 100,000, and 34 per cent of the population has had their first vaccine dose.
USA: The country’s massive vaccine programme has delivered 367million doses, with just over 50 per cent of the population having had at least one jab. Boris Johnson hopes President Biden will agree to a quarantine-free UK-US travel corridor for those who have received both doses this summer.
CYPRUS: The island, which remains amber, was one of the first countries in Europe to welcome back British tourists, opening its borders to the fully vaccinated or those with a negative PCR test result on May 1. Cyprus has an infection rate of seven and has vaccinated 44 per cent of its population with a first dose.
TURKEY: The country was put on the red list last month. But its tourist board said a recent lockdown has had a ‘significant impact’ on reducing infections, which it said have fallen by 73 per cent since May 1. Its borders are open restriction-free to those who have received two doses of the vaccine.
What are airlines doing?
EASYJET is allowing passengers to transfer flights for free this summer up to two hours before travel or to opt for a refund or airline credit. Its ‘Flights Protection Promise’ is in place until September 30. The caveat is that if fares rise for the new flights, passengers must pay the difference.
RYANAIR customers who have booked to travel in July and August will be able to move flights for free for travel until December 31. However, passengers can only switch to the route already booked.
Ryanair customers who have booked to travel in July and August will be able to move flights for free for travel until December 31. However, passengers can only switch to the route already booked
BRITISH AIRWAYS has waived its usual fee for changing flights, but passengers must pay any differences in fares. There is also an option to accept a voucher for travel valid until April 30, 2023.
WIZZ AIR will allow changes up to three hours before flights. Passengers must pay any differences in the cost of fares and there is also a sliding scale of fees. With more than 30 days to go, the change fee is £26, within seven it is £34.
JET2 is offering free amendments for flights to amber countries for travel from July 1-21.
The villa dilemma
Customers with villa bookings with any company are advised to triple-check the small print now, just in case the travel traffic light system affects a forthcoming booking.
There is a danger that you could book to go to an amber country and then see it switched to the red list. In such a scenario, unscrupulous companies might say that customers who choose not to come merely have a ‘disinclination to travel’.
Luckily, most villa companies have relaxed terms and conditions during the pandemic, although this throws up some grey areas.
There is a danger that you could book to go to an amber country and then see it switched to the red list. In such a scenario, unscrupulous companies might say that customers who choose not to come merely have a ‘disinclination to travel’
For example, Oliver’s Travels has a ‘Book with Confidence’ policy that states that if a country moves to amber and you do not wish to travel, it will ask the villa owner for a change of date but ‘we are unable to guarantee that a change of dates request will be accepted by the owner… We will of course do our very best for you.’
If the country moves to the red list, however, customers can move their holiday to another date.
Meanwhile, James Villas offers a ‘free cancellation’ when made at least 28 days before travel for certain properties. Simpsons Travel is offering customers deferrals or refunds for any destination not on the green list.
Tour operators are pressing ahead with holidays to amber list countries. For example, Britain’s leading operator, Tui, is continuing flights to Spain.
However, it is allowing all passengers who are concerned about going – or do not want to self-isolate for ten days on their return – to make a change to a booking without a fee up to 14 days before travel up to August 31.
Holidays can be swapped for alternative trips up to October 2022.
Tui’s policy for countries that move from the green to the amber list is for a fee-free holiday change ‘right up until the day before your holiday begins’.
Travellers with package holidays should check with their tour operator’s terms and conditions online, usually found in ‘Covid Update’ sections. Each is likely to be slightly different.
Check your insurance
Travel insurance policies are invalidated if you travel against Foreign Office advice.
For green list destinations such as Iceland and Gibraltar, policies will work as usual. But for amber countries, holidaymakers are advised to check with their insurer before travel.
Policies should be valid for travel to amber countries such as Spain or Greece, even if the Government has recommended against travelling to them.
This is because with travel, insurers have traditionally followed Foreign Office advice, which is stated at gov.uk. So travel to amber countries is likely to be fine, although it is sensible to double-check before going.
Rules for children
Those travelling to green list countries will have to stay alert regarding Covid test requirements, especially with children. First, there is the rule for the country you are visiting. For example, in Portugal – on the green list until Tuesday – children over the age of two must have a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before travelling.
This rule could be different should other countries go green. Some may have different age waivers. Others may not require tests at all for any age category.
Travellers will have to check individual countries’ entry requirements, listed on gov.uk.
Then, before returning to the UK from any green country, all passengers excluding children under 11 must have proof of a negative antigen/lateral flow Covid test taken within 72 hours of travel. Abroad, these tests usually cost about £25 and should be widely available.
A further hurdle involves completing the passenger locator forms required by British border officials.
These must be completed online (at gov.uk) by returning travellers, although those aged under 18 may be included on adults’ forms if they are staying at the same UK address.
All travellers, excluding those aged four and under, must also have proof of having booked and paid for a PCR test to be taken before ‘day two’ of getting back. Government-recognised clinics must be used for this and you will be provided with a reference number to use in your passenger locator form.
Traffic light system
Green countries: no requirement to self-isolate on return. A negative antigen/lateral flow test is required before returning to the UK. A PCR test must also be taken within two days of returning.
Amber countries: Ten days’ quarantine required on return to the UK, along with PCR tests taken on days two and eight. Alternatively, use the Test to Release scheme, paying for a private test on day five to end quarantine early (you’ll still need to take a test on day eight). A negative antigen/lateral flow test is also required before returning to the UK.
Red countries: Ten days’ quarantine are required in a Government-approved hotel (£1,750 cost), plus a negative antigen/lateral flow test before returning and PCR tests on days two and eight.
For green countries, a negative antigen/lateral flow test is required before returning to the UK. A PCR test must also be taken within two days of returning
Your rights and your flights… the new rules
Why has Portugal suddenly been put on the amber list?
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it was due to rising cases and a Covid mutation detected in the country. But Algarve MP Cristovao Norte said he was ‘perplexed’ and that beyond a spike in Lisbon, its transmission rate was ‘more or less’ the same as the UK’s.
Will it stay amber all summer?
Not necessarily. If infection rates decline and mutations are kept under control, it could turn green again.
I’ve booked for the Algarve in July. Should I cancel?
If you cannot self-isolate for ten days on your return, perhaps for work, it may be prudent to cancel. But those who are able to work from home while self-isolating may wish to wait until the Government reviews its travel traffic lights system on June 24.
If I go to amber-listed Greece next month, what tests will I require and am I still insured?
You will be required to provide proof of a negative PCR test on arrival, taken within 72 hours of travel – or proof you have two Covid jabs. Within 72 hours of returning, you will need to take an antigen/lateral flow test. On return you must quarantine for ten days and take a PCR test on days two and eight. You can shorten the isolation period by paying for another test on day five. But you would still be required to take the day eight test. Travel insurance should cover you for an amber country but check with your policy issuer.
If a country is on the amber list, will my travel company refund me?
No. It is within its rights to continue with the holiday as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has not said amber countries are a ‘no go’. But tour operators, such as Tui, are allowing customers to postpone their holidays at no extra charge.
I urgently need to go to red-listed Sri Lanka to see a sick relative. Can I go?
Yes, but you need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival and on return you need to isolate at a Government-approved hotel for ten days at a cost of £1,750.
If half of all UK adults have had both jabs, why do ministers not want us to travel?
That is the billion-pound question that the UK travel industry is asking. Bearing in mind that Covid is likely to be around in at least small quantities in countries across the globe for many years, there is going to have to be a time to let travel ‘return to normal’.
I booked with Jet2 to fly to Portugal on June 25 but they cancelled all flights until July 1. Where does that leave me?
Jet2 has said that anyone travelling to an amber country before July 1 can get a full refund or can re-book.
What are my employment rights if I am required to quarantine on return from an amber country?
This is tricky. If you are unable to work from home, employers are entitled to demand staff take either paid holiday or unpaid leave for the duration of the quarantine. But check as your employer may take a more sympathetic view.
When will the Government next review travel?
The list will be reviewed every three weeks. The next is due on June 24, with changes coming into effect on June 28.
Will President Biden have to self-isolate when he arrives for the G7 summit?
No. G7 delegates are exempt from the quarantine requirements as they are ‘travelling to the UK for official business that cannot be undertaken while self-isolating’. But all attendees will need to provide a negative test before they arrive and take daily lateral flow tests at the summit in Cornwall.
I’m keen to go abroad in the next few months – how far in advance should I book?
If you can, book between seven and ten days before flying. This will give you enough time to sort your tests and travel insurance. Ensure your holiday is not during the three-weekly traffic light review as you could find yourself in a green country that is turning amber or red.
It may be another staycation summer. What’s the weather forecast looking like?
Met Office meteorologist Sarah Kent said ‘a hot summer is more likely than normal’. She added that, with climate change, ‘there is a slightly greater impact from hot weather such as heatwaves’.
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