Grant Shapps today hinted that the ‘green list’ could be expanded within weeks amid mounting pressure for France, Spain, Italy and Greece to be added.
The Transport Secretary delivered an optimistic message about the prospects for summer travel as he defended the government’s traffic light system – despite fury that it has caused confusion and chaos.
He urged people to be ‘patient’ rather than booking trips to ‘amber’ rated destinations – suggesting the roster of places classed as safe to visit is on track to get longer when it is reviewed at the start of next month.
The positive signs came amid calls for countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Greece to be added to the ‘green list’, with warnings that the UK travel industry is being left behind as Europe reopens.
Despite a series of ministers warning that people should not be going to amber-rated countries for holidays yet, hundreds of thousands of people have been braving quarantine and testing requirements to go anyway.
And millions more are believed to have gambled by booking trips to popular locations later in the summer.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren complained today that the government has been using polls and focus groups to make decisions rather than following the evidence, arguing that more mainstream holiday hotspots should be on the green list along with Portugal.
‘We have looked at the data that is available and the scientific evidence shows that you have a number of countries in Europe that are now on the amber list that should go into the green list,’ he said.
‘You can see that that is happening in Europe as we speak. European travel is opening up at large scale.’
However, despite the hopeful words from Mr Shapps it is unclear the basis on which the EU will be willing to receive UK tourists.
The bloc’s ambassadors agreed yesterday that people who have received both vaccine jabs should be allowed without quarantine or testing restrictions, but there are doubts over whether that will apply to non-vaccinated Brits.
Portugal is currently the only major tourist destination on the ‘green list’. Pictured, Albufeira
Grant Shapps today held out the prospect of expending the ‘green list’ within weeks amid calls for France, Spain, Italy and Greece to be added
Holiday ‘police’ knocking on your door: Priti Patel reveals plans for up to 10,000 quarantine checks EVERY day
Families should expect a ‘knock on the door’ when they return from abroad, Priti Patel warned last night.
The Home Secretary said enforcement was being stepped up to make sure travellers who visit amber-list countries such as France, Spain and Italy obey the ten-day quarantine rule.
Officials have the capacity to carry out 10,000 home visits a day and 30,000 were conducted last week.
Anyone found to be out when supposedly self-isolating risks a fine of up to £10,000 – although few have been levied so far.
The warning came despite growing optimism of an end to Covid curbs next month and after days of confusion over amber-list countries.
Boris Johnson told MPs yesterday that visits to these medium-risk destinations were acceptable only in ‘extreme circumstances’.
But one analysis said up to 270,000 Britons will fly to amber countries in the five days to Sunday.
In a round of interviews, Mr Shapps urged the public to have ‘a little more patience as the world catches up with our vaccine programme’.
Travellers returning to Britain from an amber location must quarantine at home for 10 days and take a pre-departure test and two post-arrival tests.
‘There’s a heck of a lot of hassle involved,’ Mr Shapps told Sky News.
‘It’s expensive. We’re not at the stage of saying to people, go to those places on holiday, in fact, please don’t.’
Portugal is currently the only major tourist destination on the ‘green list’.
But Mr Shapps said he wanted to see more countries added.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘The amber list and the red list are not for holidaymakers, that’s not the purpose of those lists at this time.
‘We just think that after a year of lockdowns in this country, of people coming forward in record numbers to get their vaccines, we do not want to be in a position of taking risks at this stage about our unlock.’
Asked if he was pushing for the green list to be extended he said: ‘Of course. The reason for that is we have ended up getting way ahead in terms of our vaccination programme in this country and we are just having to wait for other countries to catch up with us.
‘That’s going to gradually happen, obviously, you can see it’s happening, so that list should expand.’
Mr Shapps added: ‘We are reviewing this all the time, every three weeks, the next review is in the first week of June and we’ll have to see what happens.
Mr Shapps added: ‘Our message is very straightforward, which is ‘just a little bit of patience, everyone’.
‘I know it’s been an incredibly tough year and there are extreme circumstance where people will feel that it is the right thing to do – perhaps because they have a sick family member and some extreme situations where they’ll travel in the orange category.
‘But by and large we are just asking people to be a little bit patient as other countries catch up with our world-leading vaccination programme and then people will be able to, I hope, travel.
‘We are returning to a world which looks more normal, I hope.’
Mr Shapps defended the continued availability of direct flights from countries such as India on the coronavirus red list.
The seven-day infection rates per million people have been coming down in France, Greece, Spain and Italy
It is not the first time that the variant has been detected in Germany, but it does come amid increased fears about the virus after it began spreading rapidly in the UK (pictured, areas where the variant is now the dominant strain)
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren suggested the government was using polls and focus groups to make decisions rather than following the evidence
Millions are taking a punt and have booked holidays to Amber List nations, especially in Europe, despite warnings not to fly out
EasyJet calls for bigger green list after unveiling £700m loss in six months
EasyJet has revealed widened half-year losses and expects to fly only around 15 per cent of its pre-pandemic flight programme until the end of June despite international leisure travel restarting this week.
The low-cost airline reported underlying losses of £701million for the six months to March 31 against £193million a year ago.
It added that while capacity will still be only around 15% of 2019 levels in its third quarter, it expects to ramp up its programme from June onwards to meet ‘pent-up demand’.
The Luton-based carrier has added more than 105,000 seats on flights when the Government announced the so-called green list countries – from which UK travellers will not need to quarantine on return.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: ‘We are ready to significantly ramp up our flying for the summer with a view to maximising the opportunities we see in Europe.
‘We have the ability to flex up quickly to operate 90% of our current fleet over the peak summer period to match demand.’
‘We know there is pent-up demand, we saw this again when green list countries were released and added more than 105,000 seats, and so we look forward to being able to help many more people to travel this summer,’ he added.
In an interview on Sky News, he said: ‘You cannot prevent British citizens from returning home, no country can ban its own citizens.’
The Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast that he wanted passengers arriving from amber and red list countries to be segregated in airports ‘as much as is practically possible’.
He added that Heathrow, which is currently only using two of its four terminals, is examining using a ‘spare terminal to bring in perhaps the red flights separately’.
Downing Street denied today that the government’s message was effectively that people should not go on holiday at all this year.
There are fears that unvaccinated Britons could miss out on holidays to the EU as Brussels ponders whether to leave the UK off a ‘white list’ of low infection countries over rising cases of the Indian Covid variant.
Under new plans approved by EU ambassadors yesterday, non-essential travel into the bloc will be permitted for all fully vaccinated travellers regardless of their country of origin.
A ‘white list’ of countries will also be drawn up, allowing even unvaccinated travellers in – provided they have a negative test or evidence of a previous Covid infection.
The UK was expected to make the ‘white list’ since it has just 44 cases of Covid per 100,000 people, with the maximum threshold being 75.
But that is now in doubt, with ambassadors due to consider the situation tomorrow.
Spanish minister Arancha Gonzalez told BBC’s Newscast podcast that the Indian variant had complicated the situation.
‘There are countries who are concerned about the potential of the Indian variant to be more present in the UK and therefore to run the risk, if the EU opens towards the UK, to import the Indian variant into the European Union,’ she said.
‘There are countries who are saying that.
‘This is why this discussion is not yet over, but I do hope that in the next hours there will be clarity on this point.’
Ms Gonzalez said Spain felt ‘more confident’ about letting vaccinated citizens into the country rather than applying a blanket approval for all people in the UK, but that any decision would wait until ‘EU regulation has been adopted’.
She said a decision from Brussels was ‘very close to getting done’, adding: ‘If that is the case, then yes as soon as this is done, hopefully towards the end of this week, vaccinated British citizens would be allowed in.’
Italy is one of the countries airlines say should be on the green list. Pictured, Monterosso al Mare in 2019
No 10 said it was ‘still too early’ to determine whether the Indian variant could delay lifting all coronavirus restrictions on June 21 but that there had ‘not been any significant changes’ in the past 24 hours.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: ‘At the moment we are keeping a very close eye on the data.
‘There is still, similar to yesterday, not been any significant changes that currently suggest we need to change our course of action.
‘We are monitoring that very carefully but it is still too early to make a definitive judgment.
‘We will monitor the data, crucially both on hospitalisation rates in these outbreak areas and the ongoing work on the transmissibility – both that work is ongoing, so we will aim to update next week.’
The spokesman said there was no new data expected to be published on Thursday regarding the Indian variant’s transmissibility or its impact on vaccines being rolled out in the UK.