Watch: COVID-19: Portugal removed from green list as seven countries added to red
Portugal will be removed from the green travel list with more countries added to the red list, as transport secretary Grant Shapps raised concerns of a new coronavirus mutation and rising cases.
No more countries have been added to the green list, which removes the requirement for quarantine upon returning to the UK.
Labour criticised the “chaos” as reports about the travel restrictions dripped out of the government on Thursday without official confirmation.
Unattributed reports suggested Portugal would be put on the amber list following a meeting between the Westminster and devolved governments, as well as the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
People returning to the UK from amber list countries must self-isolate at home for 10 days as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
Seven countries – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Trinidad and Tobago – have been added to the red list.
That means people arriving in the UK from those nations will now be required to stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights, at the cost of £1,750 for solo travellers.
Shapps later said: “I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end we’ve seen two things really which caused concern.
“One is the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected, and we just don’t know the potential for that to be vaccine-defeating mutation, and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to 21 June and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier on Thursday said it was "not aware" of Nepal variant, tweeting: “WHO is not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal.
“The three confirmed variants in circulation are: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Delta (B.1.617.2) and Kappa (B.1.617.1).”
The decision on Portugal is a huge blow for the travel industry, with the country the only viable major tourist destination on the green list.
It is only 17 days since the ban on non-essential leisure travel from the UK was lifted.
Portugal’s seven-day rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people stands at 37.2, up from 30.7 a week earlier.
All changes to the lists will come into effect at 4am on Tuesday.
Andrew Flintham, the managing director of the TUI UK travel group, blasted the announcement as “another step back for our industry”.
“After promises that the Global Travel Taskforce would result in a clear framework, removing the damaging flip flopping we all endured last summer, the government decision to move Portugal straight from green to amber will do untold damage to customer confidence,” he said.
“We were reassured that a green watch list would be created and a weeks’ notice would be given so travellers wouldn’t have to rush back home. They have failed on this promise.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said this is a “terrible decision”.
He told the PA news agency: “They seem to want to continue to create an atmosphere of fear among travellers, which is totally at odds with other countries.
Watch: We must be careful with international travel – Matt Hancock
“There are several countries which meet the criteria to be on the green list so this is clearly a politically charged decision rather than one based on data.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye added: “Ministers spent last month hailing the restart of international travel, only to close it down three weeks later all but guaranteeing another lost summer for the travel sector.
“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.”
Summer travel hotspots including Malta, and Spanish and Greek islands, had hoped to be awarded green status previously given to Portugal.
The announcement came amid concerns about the spread of the Indian coronavirus variant, renamed the "Delta" variant by the WHO, which has cast some doubt as to whether England's lockdown will end as planned on 21 June.
Earlier in the day, health secretary Matt Hancock appeared to hint at the green list decision as he said: "We do have to be careful about international travel. The Delta variant… shows why it’s right to be careful about international travel.
"Countries around the world have learnt the importance of that, including us here in the UK."
The government, meanwhile, is continuing to urge people to avoid non-essential travel to amber list countries.
Travellers returning from amber locations – which also include popular hotspots such as mainland Spain, France, Italy and mainland Greece – must quarantine at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival tests.
Earlier on Thursday, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the public should “exercise their common sense” about travelling abroad.
“We then have the amber list which we very much ask people not to travel to unless there are very particular, very dire consequences they’re having to deal with, such as a dying relative."
Robert Boyle, former director of strategy at British Airways’ parent company IAG, said: “In theory, we know what is being measured and the data sources being used, as the government has published that.
“What we don’t know is what the thresholds are and how they get from the data to the decisions.
“I think the truth is they follow the opinion polls.”
The government has previously said assessments of travel lists are based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
Watch: Boris Johnson says 'nothing in data' to delay lockdown lift