Portugal is still safe for travel despite being axed from green list, Foreign Office declares

The Foreign Office has declared Portugal safe for holidays despite the Government axing it from its green list, forcing 30,000 people to cut short their breaks.

As Environment Secretary George Eustice urged Britons on Tuesday to holiday in the UK, the Foreign Office appeared to have broken ranks by refusing to ban non-essential travel to Portugal and its islands of Madeira and the Azores.

It will confirm suspicions that the Government went further than the recommendations of its scientific advisers on the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) when it moved Portugal onto the amber list, requiring anyone returning to the UK to quarantine for 10 days and have at least two PCR tests.

The advisers are understood to have suggested that Portugal should only be moved to a "watch list", an innovation introduced this year to alert holidaymakers that a green country is at risk of turning amber.

Travel countries on the amber list

It would have saved thousands of British holidaymakers the scramble of racing to get home before 4am on Tuesday morning when quarantine was introduced for Portuguese arrivals.

Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "It is no wonder that the Government is causing confusion, not only to consumers but to the travel industry and other countries.

"We are becoming a laughing stock because other countries are making it easier for their citizens to travel but here we have a Government at odds depending on which departments you talk to. They are in danger of killing the industry."

Ministers closed the door on Portugal after highly-disputed claims that Portugal had seen a doubling in infection rates and the emergency of a new mutation of the Indian variant, known as the Nepalese variant.

However, the Portuguese scientists and other officials claimed the infection data was inaccurate, and that there was no evidence to suggest the new mutation was any more of a threat to the vaccine or any more transmissible. While the UK has had 18 cases, Portugal has recorded just nine.

It came as Mr Eustice said people should book their summer holidays in the UK as the situation abroad has not improved as much as hoped.

Revealing that he will not be going abroad this summer and will instead be holidaying in Cornwall, he said the "biggest threat" to the UK was the potential import of variants that could evade the vaccine.

"The most important thing is we can open up our economy and get back to life as normal here," he said.

He added that the Government had hoped the situation would be improving across the world and other countries could gradually be added to the green list, but "sadly that’s not happening".

"My advice for people would be to holiday at home… obviously some people will want to travel abroad but they have to understand there are risks there as well," he said.

The 43 hotel quarantine 'red list' countries

The Foreign Office advice means holidaymakers and tour companies including the UK’s biggest operator TUI can still travel to the country without the need to buy special insurance.

TUI disclosed that only 10 per cent of its 2,000 customers on holiday in Portugal had asked to come back early before the Tuesday 4am deadline when Portugal turned amber.

TUI is also continuing to fly to amber list destinations where the Foreign Office declares holidays are safe. These are Cuba, St Lucia, Spain’s Canary Islands and the Greek islands of Crete, Rhodes, Kos and Corfu.

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