Holidaymakers scrambling to return from Portugal being charged hundreds of pounds for flights after green list removal

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates on what Portugal's move to the 'amber' list means for travellers and for businesses on the ground in Portugal

Holidaymakers scrambling to secure seats on flights following the government's decision to remove Portugal from England's green list are being charged hundreds of pounds.

Following the decision, people arriving in the UK from Portugal after 4am on Tuesday will need to self-isolate at home for 10 days and pay for two PCR tests

As a result of the change, seats on flights that land before the deadline are in high demand and prices have soared.

A seat on a Ryanair flight from the capital Lisbon to Manchester on Monday costs £339, on Wednesday the same route is available for just £75.

British Airways is charging £348 for flights from Faro to London Heathrow on Sunday and Monday, but the price drops to £137 on Tuesday.

"The cheapest flight home we could get was to were going up by the minute" - Holidaymakers from Portsmouth tell ITV News they have had to cut their five-day holiday to three nights and change their return flights due to the latest travel changes

Several UK airlines have written an open letter to the government, asking why Portugal has not been placed a green "watch list". They also asked for the government to explain the full criteria used when allocating countries to green, amber or red lists.

EasyJet is operating larger aircraft and more flights to bring people back to the UK while British Airways has also increased its schedule.

The airline said it will operate more flights to meet demand for people returning home. More than 1,000 additional seats have been added on routes from Faro to Gatwick, Luton, Manchester and Bristol.

Jet2's CEO Stephen Paul Heapy told ITV News it is hard to justify a flying operation following the latest travel announcement.

He said: "If there's no destinations on green, it's going to be very difficult to justify a flying operation because let's face it not everyone can afford the cost of testing and not everyone can afford to have 10 days in quarantine.

"Some people aren't white collar workers and they can't sit at home and work and you know hospitality workers, supermarket etc, there's loads. It's just not going to work."

Britain's second biggest tour operator, Jet2, tells ITV News it could keep its fleet grounded for longer - unless more countries go onto the green travel list

Meanwhile Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, said it has 9,500 customers in Portugal but that was already due to have fallen to 2,000 by Tuesday because of the end of half-term for schoolchildren.

The popular holiday destination - which reopened for British tourists just weeks ago - was moved to the amber list and no new destinations were added to the travel green list, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday,

The move was an "absolute devastating blow" for the travel industry, bosses have said.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of London-based travel agency Advantage Travel Partnership, said the latest news is an “absolute devastating blow”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Clearly, yesterday was an absolute blow, an absolute devastating blow for consumers and the industry of a really seismic scale now.”

What are the rules for people returning from each category?

  • Green: There is no need to self-isolate. Take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on day two of your arrival in the UK.

  • Amber: Self-isolate for 10 days, unless you receive a negative result from a test taken at least five days after arrival. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.

  • Red: Spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel. Take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on day two and day eight of your arrival in the UK.

Asked if she feels the government has let the industry down, she said: “Absolutely. I mean, the government has completely moved the goal-posts from us overnight with no notice at all.”

Ms Lo Bue-Said said there was a lack of communication to enable the industry to put the right systems in place.

She added: “It now throws confidence completely out of the window, because if we can see something like Portugal that was on a green list move to amber within, sort of, you know, 90, 100 hours notice or whatever it is, what’s going to happen if I make further plans?

Emma Brennan from ABTA how on whether people can get a refund on holidays booked after Tuesday

“It puts the industry in a really difficult position and consumers in a difficult position in order to be able to plan effectively."

Dame Irene Hays, owner of Hays Travel, said she was “surprised and obviously disappointed” to see Portugal removed from the green list.

She told Sky News she was “disappointed for our customers, disappointed for the travel industry and really disappointed for Portugal, because they’ve tried so hard and their infection rates are so low. I know they’re rising in Lisbon, but it’s quite a way from the Algarve, which is where most of the tourists are”.

"You're put in a bit of a predicament where you've got to go on it or lose your holiday", another Brit, who's going to Albufeira, tells ITV News

It is “difficult” and “very frustrating” for holidaymakers, particularly those who had just started their trips, she added.

Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said the travel industry is facing "another lost summer".

He said: “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.”

Portugal is a popular holiday destination Credit: PA Images

The government's decision came despite anticipation that more European destinations would be added to the green list.

Mr Shapps blamed the decision to tighten travel rules on “a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant”, also known as the Delta variant, that has been detected in Portugal.

Although the Nepal variant has not been found in the UK, the Delta variant, from which it originated, is now the dominant Covid strain in the UK.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick advised Brits not to go on holiday to Portugal, even if they have flights booked.

He told ITV News the decision had been made quickly due a "rapidly" changing picture, claiming cases in Portugal had doubled in the last three weeks.

"We'd like to give people as much forward guidance as we possibly can and where we're seeing positivity rising gently, we'll definitely do that but if things are moving rapidly, we've got to make changes quickly as well," Mr Jenrick said

"And in Portugal's case, we saw both positivity doubling in three weeks, a much higher level than we have here in the UK, and evidence of this new variant, or version of the variant being called the Nepal variant.

"And in that case, we thought that we had to take action and take a safety-first approach to protect all the gains we're making here in the UK and to set it up in the best possible position for the potential reopening of the economy on June 21."

People returning to the UK from Portugal will need to self-isolate for 10 days at home.

He said holidaymakers had always been warned the traffic light system would be reviewed.

A Portuguese epidemiologist claimed the decision to move Portugal to the amber tier was “an overreaction” and dismissed Mr Jenrick's claims that cases were climbing.

Professor Henrique Barros, president of Portugal’s National Health Council, said the country’s overall coronavirus situation is “relatively stable”.

Prof Barros told Sky News: “We didn’t reach such an increase, except as I said in a specific area around Lisbon.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said he has to prioritise domestic public health over international travel

“The overall picture in the country, we didn’t reach such figures.”

Mr Jenrick told ITV's Good Morning Britain on Friday that people who have booked a holiday to Portugal after Tuesday should not go.

He added that anyone planning to book a holiday to green list countries should understand that these holidays are "in some doubt" because the travel restrictions are reviewed every three weeks.

He added: "We're trying to be cautious because we've seen the harm that new variants can do and we don't want to bring in a variant into this country before we understand its true nature.

Book with an operator that can give you a refund or reschedule your holiday, even for green list countries - Jenrick says

"At the moment, with respect to the Nepal variant, there's a lot of work to be done and our scientists are analysing that right now, seeing: is it different? Is it more transmissible? Is it more virulent? And most importantly, are our vacines capable of handling it?

"Once we know that, we'll be able to take a more considered view on travel to countries where that variant is prevalent, like Portugal."

A total of 12,431 cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in the UK up to June 2, according to Public Health England (PHE). This is a 79% increase from the previous week’s total of 6,959.

A further 5,274 new cases were reported in the UK on Thursday, the highest daily figure since March.

A recent study also suggests people who received the Pfizer vaccine have lower antibody levels that target the Delta variant than those that targeted previously circulating variants in the UK.

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