By Lina Saigol
Portugal has been removed from the U.K.’s quarantine-free travel list, just weeks after the popular holiday destination reopened to British tourists, amid concerns over rising cases and mutations of the virus.
The decision announced late Thursday sparked anger among airlines and travel companies, with Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye accusing the British government of “all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector”.
Shares in budget airline easyjet /zigman2/quotes/202825892/delayed UK:EZJ +0.18% fell over 2% in London on Friday. Those of rival carrier Ryanair /zigman2/quotes/204098489/composite RYAAY -1.83% /zigman2/quotes/202851567/delayed UK:RYA -1.19% and British Airways owner International Airlines Group /zigman2/quotes/208070069/delayed UK:IAG +3.08% fell more than 1% each.
Britain allowed international travel to resume on May 17 after more than four months of lockdown, under a traffic-light system. Portugal was among a handful of countries placed on the government’s “green list,” allowing people to return home without the need to quarantine.
U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Schapps said on Thursday that Portugal would be moved from the green to the amber list due to rising COVID-19 case numbers and the risk of a mutation of the Delta variant first identified in India. Arrivals from countries on the amber list must quarantine at home, while red-designated countries require people to quarantine in government-assigned hotels.
The U.K. government also added seven more countries — including Sri Lanka and Egypt — to its red list.
“This seems likely to effectively shut down U.K. international leisure travel for at least the first part of the peak summer season,” Liberum analyst Gerald Khoo wrote in a research note to clients on Friday. He added that it seems unlikely that the decision will be reversed quickly.
“There is now a real risk that flying activity this summer could be weaker than Summer 2020, with concerns about COVID variants outweighing vaccination programme progress,” according to the Khoo note.
Portugal’s foreign ministry said it could not understand the “logic” behind the U.K.’s decision. “We took note of Britain’s decision to remove Portugal from the green list,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that it would continue its gradual easing of lockdown measures in the country.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association , said that, given the success of the U.K. vaccine rollout, “the continuing overly cautious approach to travel will disappoint and puzzle many.”
More than three-quarters of all U.K. adults have now received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while half have received two doses, the government said on Wednesday.
The Delta variant is now the dominant strain in the U.K., Public Health England said on Thursday, but it cautioned that further data are needed to have more confidence in the finding.
Schapps also said “a sort of Nepal mutation” of the Delta variant had been detected, adding that “we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”
Some experts in the U.K. have called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay the final easing of lockdown restrictions on June 21. Earlier this week, Adam Finn, a pediatrics professor at the University of Bristol and a member of the U.K.’s vaccine advisory committee, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, suggested on LBC Radio that going ahead with the reopening on June 21 would be a “bad decision.”
AJ Bell financial analyst Danni Hewson said that the domestic hospitality sector will be hoping that a full reopening is still on the cards for June 21, but “creeping concern about the threat posed by the Delta variant may send any decision on this to the wire.”