Brits scramble back from Portugal before quarantine rules change

Brits scramble to get back from Portugal on last day before quarantine rules change as thousands of holidaymakers face chaos at airports and testing sites before they return

  • Thousands of panicked British travellers in Portugal face chaos at airports and coronavirus testing sites 
  • British passengers have until 4am tomorrow to return to the UK or face home quarantine for 10 days 
  • Cabinet ministers last Thursday downgraded Portugal from green to amber over fears of Nepal variant
  • But just one case of the strain had been found in Portugal at the time, while 43 were found in the UK
  • Sudden move instantly wiped £2billion off the value of airlines and sparked fury across travel industry 

Thousands of panicked British travellers in Portugal face chaos at airports and coronavirus testing sites as they dash back to the UK before quarantine rules change at 4am tomorrow.    

Travellers waited four hours at one testing site set up in the car park at Faro Airport in the Algarve, south Portugal, while many other testing sites in the district were closed or dealing with a backlog yesterday. A list of sites published by the Government was only available in Portuguese.

The Government abruptly demoted Portugal from green to amber status on its travel list on Thursday, sparking fury among travel industry chiefs and British families whose holiday plans were destroyed by the move.

Passengers have until 4am tomorrow to return to the UK or quarantine for 10 days. They must have proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than three days before their departure or face a £500, but testing centres in Portugal were reportedly overwhelmed by the spike in demand.

There are an estimated 112,000 Britons currently in Portugal and airlines have been laying on extra flights or larger aircraft to get people home. Some 100 flights departed Faro on Saturday and there were lengthy queues snaking around the building of passengers trying to leave yesterday.

Speaking to the BBC this morning, Angela Matan, from the East Midlands, said she got news of the sudden decision just one day after getting to Portugal and now has to quarantine for 10 days at home because she was unable to get PCR tests or ‘suitable’ flights back home. It means she cannot provide vaccinations at her local centre as a volunteer, or provide her aunt – who is shielding – her daily medication. 

Asked how difficult it has been to get back to the UK, she said: ‘It’s almost been impossible. We arrived on the Wednesday, on the Thursday we were notified it had gone to amber and immediately we started looking for flights and tests. There were no tests available and the flights weren’t suitable to get us back to the East Midlands.

‘We got our original test booked in, but because other people had obviously been trying there was nothing available. It leaves us that we’ve got to finish the holiday and then go into quarantine when we come back. We can joke about it, but you arrive one day and the next day we’re planning to get home.’

Some 20,000 passengers departing from Faro at the weekend had to pay exorbitant prices to buy PCR tests so they can fly back from Portugal ahead of the 10-day quarantine deadline.

With PCR tests costing £125 each, a family-of-four can expect to fork out £1,000 for tests for which they have not budgeted – meaning the Government’s sudden decision is putting hundreds of people out of pocket.  

Cabinet ministers had cited growing concerns over the so-called Nepal variant, though at the time just one case of the strain had been found in Portugal while 43 cases had been identified in the UK.

Official data now shows that just 1.5 per cent of British travellers tested positive for Covid-19 over two weeks in a sample – just three positive cases spotted out of 200 people coming from Portugal in mid-May. 

The travel industry reacted with fury to the JBC data last night, saying it was proof of the very low risk posed by people arriving from Portugal and that the country should have stayed green.

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Cabinet ministers yesterday admitted they are ‘absolutely open’ to delaying lockdown easing on June 21;
  • But furious Tory backbenchers urged the Government not to ‘move the goalposts’ and commit to roadmap;
  • NHS experts said hospital patients with Covid-19 are young, get less sick and go home sooner;
  • Young people in London and Scotland queued for ‘miles’ to get jabs as the NHS began vaccinating over-18s;
  • Concerns were raised after ‘blank’ NHS Covid vaccine cards were spotted being sold on eBay for over £50;
  • Tony Blair called for vaccinated Britons to be released from restrictions and said it is ‘time to distinguish for the purposes of freedom’ between those who have been jabbed and those who have not;
  • The UK recorded 5,341 cases yesterday, rising 65 per cent in a week, while deaths fell again to four.

UK tourists squeeze into queues at Faro Airport in a hurry back to Britain before Tuesday’s 4am ‘amber list’ deadline

British tourists and residents line up to return to England at Faro Airport, Algarve, Portugal, yesterday

People wait in queues at Faro Airport as UK travellers scramble home to beat the Tuesday 4am quarantine deadline 

Ministers are not adding any countries to its so-called ‘green list’, dashing hopes that places such as Malta, Jamaica and Grenada could be added to the roster thanks to easing coronavirus rates

Ministers downgraded Portugal’s travel status from green to amber after just 1.5 per cent of travellers tested positive for Covid over two weeks in a sample, it emerged yesterday.

Three positive cases were spotted out of 200 travellers coming from Portugal between May 6 and May 19.

The positive samples were sent for genomic sequencing for detecting mutant variants, but it is not clear if any were found. The figures were compiled by the Joint Biosecurity Centre for the Government.

JBC data is used by ministers to decide whether countries should be ranked green, amber or red under the Covid traffic light travel system. 

Separate figures showed that, between May 18 and 24, the seven-day rolling average of new Covid cases per 100,000 of Portugal’s population was 30.2. On May 31, the rate in the UK was 35.9. 

The Government’s sudden decision to downgrade Portugal to amber instantly wiped £2billion off the value of airlines, while travel chiefs warned it risked creating a jobs bloodbath and wrecking the already devastated sector.  

Top epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, slammed ministers, asking: ‘If you travel from London to Manchester at the moment, it’s a much greater risk than going to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France. Are we protecting the Portuguese from problems? Is it that way around? Because, otherwise, I don’t really get it.’ 

Separate figures showed that, between May 18 and 24, the seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 of Portugal’s population was 30.2. On May 31, the rate in the UK was 35.9.

Tim Alderslade, of Airlines UK, said last night: ‘We essentially have a pretend traffic light system. They have ignored their own recommendations and led an entire industry down the garden path. It’s clear that many in Government don’t want international travel this summer. They should have the decency to tell us so we and our passengers can plan accordingly.’

Portugal’s downgrading triggered chaos as holidaymakers scrambled to dash home to beat ten-day quarantine rules which kick in at 4am tomorrow. People with bookings to Portugal face the choice of rescheduling for later in the year in the hope it goes green again or seeking refunds.

Seven countries were added to the red list, but no new ones went green. It means that, of the 11 destinations left on the green list, Gibraltar and Iceland are the only ones Britons can realistically visit. Quarantine-free travel is only possible to green countries.

They are also the only ones where ministers say people should go on holiday. The list is reviewed every three weeks, with the next due on June 28.

A Government spokesman said last night: ‘We have taken a cautious approach to our green travel list to protect the country and our vaccination campaign from the threat of Covid-19 variants.’

Portugal’s tourism chief condemned the UK’s decision to remove the country from green ‘safe’ travel status.

Turismo de Portugal president Luis Araújo insisted all necessary precautions had been taken to ensure the safety of visitors. He said: ‘We are extremely disappointed to hear that the UK government has made the decision to remove Portugal from the green list.

‘We fully maintain and stress unwavering confidence in the safety of the nation and thank the support of all our partners and friends in the UK, especially our trading partners that have been essential in quickly reinstating flight capacity into Portugal.

‘Our country is open and prepared to welcome any tourist and we have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our visitors and residents.’

It came as more details emerged of the furious Cabinet clash between Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps over the decision.  

Mr Hancock is said to have been the driving force behind ministers’ decision to ignore JBC advice that Malta and a list of other islands should be added to the green list. He is also said to have rejected the idea that Portugal should be put on a ‘watchlist’ rather than immediately turned amber. 

The watchlist option acts as an early warning sign, designed to give people more time to return home before a country goes fully amber if the coronavirus data gets worse.

Mr Hancock was said to have been backed by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the Home Office, who also opposed Malta being added to the green list. One Whitehall source claimed ministers had a ‘massive barney’. 

Yesterday photos at Faro  showed hundreds of families ignoring social distancing as they formed huge queues in the departures lounge. Those arriving at Heathrow Airport said they were ‘pretty angry’ at the sudden decision and accused the Government of flip-flopping over its travel guidance. 

Louisa Chapman-Andrews, who had just returned from Faro with her family, said: ‘Everyone just feels pretty angry, the UK government just can’t make up its mind and that is not fair, that is the overriding feeling. They have got to make up their mind and be responsible to businesses and individuals.’

She added: ‘The Portuguese were very polite and charming but it is very disappointing. There are so many people who are responsible but we have to think about the future and start trying to pick up the pieces.

‘We need to stop hanging on to this panic. We have this amazing vaccination programme and we are crowing about that but what has changed after the programme?’  

People with bookings to Portugal face the choice of rescheduling for later in the year in the hope it goes green again or seeking refunds

Holidaymakers queue up at Faro Airport to return to UK before Portugal is added to the Amber List

It comes as daily coronavirus cases rose 65 per cent in a week to 5,341, while 33,496 cases were recorded over the last seven day – an increase of 11,022, or nearly 50 per cent, on the previous week. Deaths fell in a week from six to four

Race to escape the misery of quarantine 

From Gerard Couzens at Faro Airport

Frantic Britons queued for hours in baking heat yesterday as they tried to beat the clock to get out of Portugal.

Hundreds who turned up at Faro airport for rescheduled flights had to line up outside the terminal in 25C (77F) heat.

The wait was even longer for those scrambling to get Covid tests without which they could not get on their planes.

Those who fail to return home by 4am tomorrow will have to quarantine for ten days after Portugal was unexpectedly moved off the ‘green list’ last week.

Portugal’s downgrading triggered chaos as holidaymakers scrambled to dash home to beat ten-day quarantine rules which kick in at 4am tomorrow

This prompted many to cut short their holiday – some almost immediately after arriving – to go back home.

Algarve tourism bosses mobilised a lorry to beef up airport Covid testing after travellers were turned away from centres near their resorts.

Many decided to come to the airport a day before their pre-quarantine flights home to make sure they got test results. They took no chances after several holidaymakers missed their flights home at the weekend after failing to get their negative results back in time.

Katherine Hitchen, 30, from Hindhead, Surrey, travelling home with dad Michael and daughter Ivy, three, said: ‘We touched down on Thursday to texts saying Portugal had been put on the amber list. We were planning to stay for a week but are going back on Monday now to avoid quarantine.

‘It’s been a stressful few days since we arrived.

Katherine Hitchen with her dad Michael and daughter Ivy, three

‘I’d like to be sitting round the pool right now, not waiting to have a swab stuck up my nose.’

Louise Cooper, 55, from High Peak in Derbyshire turned up to be tested at Faro airport yesterday eight hours before her flight home. She said: ‘We got here on Monday morning and spent the first three days trying to sort out the tests for our flight home.

‘It’s been a nightmare. Everywhere was fully booked. The only place we were offered was a drive-thru in Faro which was about an hour away from where we’ve been staying in Praia da Luz. Being a drive-thru, we were told we needed a car – which we don’t have.’ 

Michael Nyhan, 70, who arrived on Thursday for a week’s break in Praia da Rocha with wife Angela, 67, said: ‘We’re going back today instead. We can’t face being cooped up inside again after the lockdown we’ve already been through.

‘We hadn’t even checked into our hotel room when we found out Portugal was going amber.’

Christina Fonseca, travelling back to the UK with her husband Nuno and their children today, said: ‘In my view there is no reason for this unexpected change to the rules. Everyone was worried and the local shops and bars were now panicking because everyone was leaving.’

Mr Fonseca told MailOnline: ‘We have a place that we rent over there as an AirBnB and we had two cancellations from British people straight away. It is just more of a political statement than anything else.’ 

One holidaymaker who gave just his first name – Gavin – said: ‘We had a lovely holiday in the sun, but the atmosphere changed when the news came out. It seemed ok but the Brits were a bit worried, it was hard to tell.’

Another traveller said the sudden decision to demote Portugal to amber would further damage local businesses in the Algarve, which rely greatly on British tourists. 

‘I think it is more the hotels and the Portuguese tourism industry that is not thrilled, they have just got all their staff in place and gone through the first week of hell getting it sorted and then everyone is leaving,’ he told MailOnline. 

It comes as Tory MPs reacted with fury last night after Mr Hancock said he was ‘absolutely open’ to delaying so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21 if coronavirus data turned ‘bad’ this week.

The Health Secretary refused to rule out keeping face masks and home working beyond late June, when the Government had hoped to remove all legal limits on social contact.

Mr Hancock said the unlocking could be pushed back if the data called for it, amid suggestions there could be a two-week delay. But his downbeat comments triggered anger among senior backbenchers.

Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne said ministers were ‘wasting the advantages afforded by the success of vaccinations’. He added: ‘The original mission statement was to save lives by protecting the NHS. We’ve done that.

‘The more it moves the goalposts, the more people will be made redundant.’

The Telegraph reported that measures including face masks, social distancing and working from home were likely to remain in place past June 21 due to lingering concern over the Indian variant.

The Government has said it will decide on whether or not to extend the current restrictions beyond June 21 a week today.

Sources told the Daily Telegraph the decision hinged on the impact of the Indian variant on hospitalisations. A source told the newspaper: ‘The scientists are more in favour of a two-week extension and that is certainly one of the options that has been put in the papers for ministers.’

It reported that the Government was concerned over a faster-than expected increase in Covid cases. But sources said the absence of a spike in hospitalisations would reassure ministers when making the decision next week.

Former Tory Cabinet minister David Jones said last night: ‘Matt Hancock has acknowledged that most people in hospital [with Covid-19] have not been vaccinated. The answer is therefore to get as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible.

‘It is not to delay the lifting of lockdown, with the attendant damage to people’s mental and physical wellbeing and to the economy.’

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers called on the Government to ‘give us as much freedom as possible’ – with priority given to weddings, events and hospitality.

She said that while ‘most people’ could live with face coverings and some travel restrictions, ‘we’ve got to allow the hospitality business to open up again fully’.

Senior Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said there was ‘increasing frustration’ among his colleagues over the restrictions. He added: ‘We’ve got to be really, really careful about getting panicked about every variant that comes along until we are absolutely sure there is one that is going to defeat the vaccine.’

The MPs’ warnings were echoed by UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, who said the ‘ongoing uncertainty’ was causing ‘significant distress’ to the sector, especially as ‘healthcare data does not indicate a need for deviation’.

The evidence ‘demonstrates that the vaccination programme is working and breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths’, she said.

‘It is crucial that the Government commits to dropping the restrictions on June 21. Any delay in the roadmap would have a devastating effect on an already fragile sector.’ 

While UK cases have been rising in recent weeks, fuelled by the Indian variant, hospital admissions have remained flat. Official data shows that Britons who have received two vaccine doses make up less than 5 per cent of those hospitalised with the new strain. 

And around two-thirds of people attending A&E with the variant do not even need to spend the night in hospital. Another 5,341 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK yesterday and a further four deaths were announced, down from six a week earlier.

Mr Hancock was asked yesterday whether the removal of restrictions on June 21 could be postponed if data on the Indian variant worsens. We are absolutely open to doing that if that’s what needs to happen,’ he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.

‘We said in the roadmap that June 21 is the date by which we would not take step four before that date and that we would look at the data. That is exactly what we are doing.’

Asked if the wearing of face coverings and work-from-home measures could continue in the long-term, the Health Secretary added: ‘Yes, I wouldn’t rule that out.’

Ministers will assess data this week ahead of an announcement, expected next Monday, on whether to proceed with the unlocking the following week.

Labour yesterday signalled it could support some restrictions remaining in place. 

Education spokesman Kate Green said: ‘If we have to maintain some protective measures beyond June 21, that is what the Government should do, but I think it is really important that it’s a decision taken on the basis of the data.’

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Munira Wilson urged ministers to ‘remain cautious, especially given rising case numbers, and to follow the evidence before making a final decision about opening up’.

British holidaymakers reveal how they have cut their family holidays to Portugal short in order to avoid quarantine in UK 

Changing rules at will? It feels wrong 

Karen Beddow (pictured with her husband Matthew and daughters Lily, Isobel and Eve) said she felt let down after being forced to cut her family holiday to Portugal short in order to avoid quarantine on return to the UK

Karen Beddow said she felt let down after being forced to cut her family holiday to Portugal short in order to avoid quarantine on return to the UK.

She had travelled to a villa in the Algarve with her husband Matthew, their three daughters and her parents last month. Mrs Beddow, 43, from the Wirral in Cheshire, said the family was due to fly back to the UK on Tuesday just hours after the new ‘amber list’ restrictions take effect.

Faced with the prospect of additional testing and quarantine, and fearing Portugal was likely to go on the list, she scrambled to rearrange the flights to Sunday before the official announcement was made yesterday.

Although able to change the Easyjet flights for her immediate family for free, her parents faced a sizeable fee to make the changes. 

Mrs Beddow said the family also had to rearrange pre-booked Covid tests to be taken on their return to the UK in line with Government rules.

She said: ‘We cut our holiday short by two days which I actually feel really annoyed about. Not because of us but because my parents decided to change their flights as well.

‘I feel really let down because the whole thing about this green list was to give people certainty. We were told there would be three weeks’ notice.

‘Obviously, what they actually mean is three weeks’ notice of countries coming on the list, not coming off. I certainly felt that if we went away we could have two weeks and have a window. If they are going to change flights at will that just feels wrong.

‘It’s all very stressful having to fix this as well. We had an afternoon of faffing and sorting out.’

Mrs Beddow, a travel blogger, and her husband, a 47-year-old property developer, spent £665 on travel tests for the couple and their three daughters.

She said that she felt ‘lucky to have made it to Portugal at all’.

I had to cancel my last trip too

Having cancelled a family holiday to Portugal last year, Laura Wolfe faces more disappointment

Having cancelled a family holiday to Portugal last year, Laura Wolfe faces more disappointment.

Her two-week trip to the Algarve with her partner Daniel and sons, aged ten and 16, is now in doubt.

Miss Wolfe, pictured, said the Government’s decision to change the travel status of the country was ‘a complete fiasco’. She said: ‘Part of us is thinking we might just go. We have saved up and are in a position to do it. And we just love it there.

‘But the issue is with the rules, which seem to be changing all of the time, the quarantine and the costs of the testing for four of us.

‘If we do say ‘sod it’ and go, what then happens if the country is placed on the red list?

‘The trip isn’t for another eight weeks so things could change several times before then.’

Although the £6,000 holiday is refundable, the events and marketing worker, from Manchester, said the possibility of cancelling has provoked a lot of anxiety.

Miss Wolfe has had both Covid jabs and her partner is about to get his second. ‘I thought this was part of why we were doing it,’ she said.

‘I know there are a lot of unknowns but if I am double-vaccinated and test negative, how can it not be OK for me to go away?’


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