Portugal moved to amber list: 112,000 Brits scramble to return home

Tourists and the travel industry react with dismay to the government’s announcement

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal
(Image credit: PxHere)

Portugal’s demotion to the amber travel list has left thousands of British holidaymakers in limbo and dealt another huge blow to the struggling tourism and aviation industries.

It was confirmed by the UK government yesterday that the popular European country, and the islands of the Azores and Madeira, would be removed from the safe list and go amber from 4am on Tuesday 8 June. The move means UK tourists should not visit the country and arrivals back to Britain must quarantine for ten days.

Striking Portugal from the green list “feels akin to betrayal”, says The Daily Telegraph’s Oliver Balch. “The country has done all it can to welcome Britons safely, and they’ve come in droves, but suddenly it finds itself on the amber list.”

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British tourists are “fuming” at the decision, says Reuters, and there’s now a huge scramble for them to return ahead of the change in quarantine rules.

Why was Portugal removed?

When the government announced its traffic light system for travel last month Portugal was one of the 12 places included on the initial green list and the most mainstream holiday destination among them.

However, yesterday’s change was part of the first review of England’s traffic light list for international travel. As well as Portugal being moved to amber, there were no new additions to the green list while seven countries – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad and Tobago – will be added to the red list.

Issuing a “safety first” approach, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps cited rising cases and a Covid-19 mutation found in Portugal as the reasons for the “difficult decision” to remove the country from the green list. He said ministers did not want to take risks before the planned final easing of England’s restrictions set for 21 June, the BBC reports.

Portugal, which has a population of 10.28m people, reported 769 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, Reuters says. This was the highest daily increase since early April and the total infections now stand at 851,031.

‘We cannot understand the logic’

Portugal has protested against Britain’s decision to remove it from the green list. The country’s foreign affairs ministry reacted to the move saying it cannot understand the “logic” behind the decision.

In a tweet it said: “We take note of the British decision to remove Portugal from the ‘green list’ of travel, a decision whose logic cannot be reached. Portugal continues to carry out its prudent and gradual deconfinement plan, with clear rules for the safety of those who live here or visit us.”

Meanwhile, Joao Fernandes, president of Algarve Tourism, said he was “bitterly disappointed” at Portugal being moved to amber, Travel Weekly reports. “In the Algarve region we host two thirds of the British overnight hotel stays in Portugal,” he said. “And since the start of the pandemic the Algarve has had the lowest number of cases and better indicators than the rest of the country.”

112,000 Brits in Portugal

British sunseekers in Portugal have reacted with “fury and disbelief”, Reuters reports. Tired of “mixed messages”, one tourist claimed the decision was “unfair” while another said the UK should “ban international travel completely or communicate properly with people”.

It’s estimated that more than 112,000 Britons are on holiday in Portugal, says Travel Weekly. They now face the prospect of “scrambling to organise return flights” before the country goes amber on Tuesday.

Conrad Poulson, CEO at mobility research firm Huq Industries, said that “assuming the largest capacity Boeing 737 or equivalent can carry around 230 people, that equates to around 487 flights to get every one of the remaining 112,177 people home”.

As “hopes for summer getaways fade”, thousands of other British tourists are also now “scrambling to cancel holidays” to Portugal, the Evening Standard reports.


(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘Government has torn up its own rule book’

Shockwaves have been sent through the hospitality, travel and aviation sectors following yesterday’s announcement.

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said told BBC Radio 4 that the decision to strike Portugal from the green list was “a devastating blow for consumers and the industry” while easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren believes it “essentially cuts the UK off from the rest of the world”.

“When this framework was put together, consumers were promised a waiting list to allow them to plan,” Lundgren said. “Yet the government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing people’s plans into chaos, with virtually no notice or alternative options for travel from the UK.”

After more than a year of international travel restrictions, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye fears that the industry is facing “another lost summer”, ITV reports. He said: “If the government is serious about protecting UK jobs and supporting businesses across the country, rapid action is needed to reopen flights to key trading partners, remove testing for vaccinated passengers from ‘green’ countries, and slash the cost and complexity of testing, as other G7 countries are doing.”

Eliderico Viegas, head of the Algarve’s hotels’ association, said Britain’s move would hit the sector like a “bucket of cold water”.

Shares tumble for travel companies

There has been a fall in share prices for many companies in the travel industry. Shares in easyJet, British Airways-owner IAG and Jet2 were down 5% on fears that Europe would lose another peak travel season while Ryanair and TUI lost 4%, Reuters reports.

The Airport Operators Association has called on the government to provide a financial bailout to save jobs if it blocks another holiday season. “Summer 2021 is shaping up to be worse than last summer, which was the worst in aviation history,” it said.

Amber list won’t be scrapped

Amid growing confusion over the state of overseas summer holidays, there have been calls for the amber list to be scrapped and just have green and red. However, the government has confirmed that the amber list is here to stay, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The Labour Party says there should just be two lists, but Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News: “You wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic lights, you shouldn’t be going on holiday to those countries either.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.