Just 1.5% of Portugal travellers test positive for Covid: Airline bosses accuse ministers of misleading the industry after popular tourist hotspot is put on amber list
- Three positive cases were spotted out of 200 travellers coming from Portugal
- They downgraded Portugal Thursday, citing a near doubling of the infection rate
- Travel industry has reacted with fury saying risk posed from Portugal is very low
Ministers downgraded Portugal’s travel status from green to amber after just 1.5 per cent of travellers tested positive for Covid over two weeks in a sample, it emerged yesterday.
Three positive cases were spotted out of 200 travellers coming from Portugal between May 6 and May 19.
The positive samples were sent for genomic sequencing for detecting mutant variants, but it is not clear if any were found. The figures were compiled by the Joint Biosecurity Centre for the Government. JBC data is used by ministers to decide whether countries should be ranked green, amber or red under the Covid traffic light travel system.
People with bookings to Portugal face the choice of rescheduling for later in the year in the hope it goes green again or seeking refunds
They downgraded Portugal on Thursday, citing a near doubling of the country’s infection rate and the discovery of the Nepal virus mutation.
The travel industry reacted with fury to the JCB data last night, saying it was proof of the very low risk posed by people arriving from Portugal. It insisted the country should have stayed green.
Separate figures showed that, between May 18 and 24, the seven-day rolling average of new Covid cases per 100,000 of Portugal’s population was 30.2. On May 31, the rate in the UK was 35.9.
A leading epidemiologist said he did not understand the Government’s thinking. Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, said: ‘If you travel from London to Manchester at the moment, it’s a much greater risk than going to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France. Are we protecting the Portuguese from problems? Is it that way around? Because, otherwise, I don’t really get it.’
He told Times Radio: ‘We can’t stop variants coming into this country unless we completely lock down the country. I think we just ought to start settling down and dealing with our own outbreaks and not try to have this haphazard travel policy which is causing a lot of fear and confusion.’
It came as more details emerged of the heated Cabinet meeting last week in which Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps clashed angrily. Mr Hancock is said to have been the driving force behind ministers’ decision to ignore JBC advice that Malta and a list of other islands should be added to the green list.
He is also said to have rejected the idea that Portugal should be put on a ‘watchlist’ rather than immediately turned amber. The watchlist option acts as an early warning sign, designed to give people more time to return home before a country goes fully amber if the Covid data gets worse.
Mr Hancock was said to have been backed by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the Home Office. They also opposed Malta being added to the green list. One Whitehall source claimed Mr Hancock and Mr Shapps had a ‘massive barney’.
Holidaymakers queue up at Faro Airport to return to UK before Portugal is added to the Amber List
Tim Alderslade, of Airlines UK, said last night: ‘We essentially have a pretend traffic light system. They have ignored their own recommendations and led an entire 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.’
Portugal’s downgrading triggered chaos as holidaymakers scrambled to dash home to beat ten-day quarantine rules which kick in at 4am tomorrow. People with bookings to Portugal face the choice of rescheduling for later in the year in the hope it goes green again or seeking refunds.
Seven countries were added to the red list, but no new ones went green. It means that, of the 11 destinations left on the green list, Gibraltar and Iceland are the only ones Britons can realistically visit. Quarantine-free travel is only possible to green countries.
They are also the only ones where ministers say people should go on holiday. The list is reviewed every three weeks, with the next due on June 28.
A Government spokesman said last night: ‘We have taken a cautious approach to our green travel list to protect the country and our vaccination campaign from the threat of Covid-19 variants.’
Race to escape the misery of quarantine
From Gerard Couzens at Faro Airport
Frantic Britons queued for hours in baking heat yesterday as they tried to beat the clock to get out of Portugal.
Hundreds who turned up at Faro airport for rescheduled flights had to line up outside the terminal in 25C (77F) heat.
The wait was even longer for those scrambling to get Covid tests without which they could not get on their planes.
Those who fail to return home by 4am tomorrow will have to quarantine for ten days after Portugal was unexpectedly moved off the ‘green list’ last week.
Portugal’s downgrading triggered chaos as holidaymakers scrambled to dash home to beat ten-day quarantine rules which kick in at 4am tomorrow
This prompted many to cut short their holiday – some almost immediately after arriving – to go back home.
Algarve tourism bosses mobilised a lorry to beef up airport Covid testing after travellers were turned away from centres near their resorts.
Many decided to come to the airport a day before their pre-quarantine flights home to make sure they got test results. They took no chances after several holidaymakers missed their flights home at the weekend after failing to get their negative results back in time.
Katherine Hitchen, 30, from Hindhead, Surrey, travelling home with dad Michael and daughter Ivy, three, said: ‘We touched down on Thursday to texts saying Portugal had been put on the amber list. We were planning to stay for a week but are going back on Monday now to avoid quarantine.
‘It’s been a stressful few days since we arrived.
Katherine Hitchen with her dad Michael and daughter Ivy, three
‘I’d like to be sitting round the pool right now, not waiting to have a swab stuck up my nose.’
Louise Cooper, 55, from High Peak in Derbyshire turned up to be tested at Faro airport yesterday eight hours before her flight home. She said: ‘We got here on Monday morning and spent the first three days trying to sort out the tests for our flight home.
‘It’s been a nightmare. Everywhere was fully booked. The only place we were offered was a drive-thru in Faro which was about an hour away from where we’ve been staying in Praia da Luz. Being a drive-thru, we were told we needed a car – which we don’t have.’ Michael Nyhan, 70, who arrived on Thursday for a week’s break in Praia da Rocha with wife Angela, 67, said: ‘We’re going back today instead. We can’t face being cooped up inside again after the lockdown we’ve already been through.
‘We hadn’t even checked into our hotel room when we found out Portugal was going amber.’
Tony Blair: Allow the double-jabbed to travel
Tony Blair has called for vaccinated Britons to be released from coronavirus restrictions and said it is ‘time to distinguish for the purposes of freedom’ between those who have been jabbed and those who have not.
The former Prime Minister also said he was eager to see the end of social distancing by the Government’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ target, but warned that ‘every time we think it’s over, [Covid] finds a way of bringing back uncertainty’.
But Mr Blair described the NHS app which proves vaccination as ‘inadequate’, and said it makes ‘no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination as the same as those who haven’t’.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show whether the plan would create a ‘discriminatory’ two-tier society, Mr Blair said: ‘I think the word discrimination has a very loaded meaning in the English language now but really when it comes to risk management, it is all about discrimination.
‘The reason we vaccinate elderly people first is because they are more at risk, the reason we ensure people are vaccinated is because it then reduces the risk of transmission.
‘I think since everybody is going to be able to get the vaccination, other than those who for medical reasons can’t, I think it really is important that people are encouraged to get vaccinated.’
Mr Blair also called for greater transparency in the Government’s coronavirus data, arguing ministers should publish how many vaccinated people are being admitted to hospital and dying in a bid to boost confidence in the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which he said is facing ‘resistance’ worldwide due to links with blood clots.
Tony Blair has called for shops and pubs to be able to ban un-jabbed customers and said it is ‘time to distinguish for the purposes of freedom’ between people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated
Mr Blair described the NHS app which proves vaccination as ‘inadequate’, and said it makes ‘no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination as the same as those who haven’t
He was reacting to a report published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change which says ‘vaccine status matters’ and champions the idea of health passes ‘to allow citizens to prove their status in a secure, privacy-preserving way’.
The report backs the introduction of Covid passports and a vaccine-only policy for British venues, claiming that whether or not one has been jabbed should be a key component of international travel and access to domestic establishments.
Mr Blair said: ‘Of course we are discriminating between vaccinated and unvaccinated. But the whole of risk management is based on discriminating between different types and levels of risk.
‘Nothing matters more to risk than vaccination, which is precisely why we’re doing it.
‘Yes, by allowing greater freedom and fewer restrictions to the vaccinated we’re providing a powerful incentive to take up vaccination, but this is a perfectly valid public policy objective.
‘Other than for medical reasons, people should be vaccinated.’
The report, published by Mr Blair’s institute, had proposed the health pass system be used both at home and abroad.
It said: ‘With this ability to securely prove vaccination status, we can move beyond blunt, catch-all tools and align with other countries by removing certain restrictions for the fully vaccinated, thereby enabling us to sustainably reopen the economy.’
It went on: ‘For as long as the world goes largely unvaccinated and the risk of a new variant remains significant, it’s vital that we have an alternative to the blunt tool of lockdowns to enable the country to live freely and safely.’
Mr Blair said: ‘It is time to distinguish for the purposes of freedom from restriction between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, both for citizens here for domestic purposes, but also for our citizens and those from other countries in respect of travel on the basis that being vaccinated substantially reduces risk.
‘It therefore makes no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination as the same as those who haven’t.’
He pointed to the report which says ‘why the current NHS app for proving vaccination is inadequate and should be changed to be simpler and more effective’.
A senior Government source said: ‘Once again Mr Blair appears to have learned of things already in the pipeline with the NHS app and decided to publicly call for them.
‘Nonetheless we thank him for his continued support.’
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