England and Northern Ireland Portugal air corridor remains
Portugal has joined Greece as two countries that will remain on the UK’s list of quarantine-free travel.
However, travellers arriving in Wales and Scotland from Portugal must now self-isolate for 14 days, but the rules covering England and Northern Ireland remain unchanged.
Every year, more than two million Britons visit Portugal. Most head to the Algarve in the south, drawn by sunny Atlantic beaches, picturesque fishing villages and golf courses.
During May and June, the Portuguese government reopened its restaurants, coffee shops, museums and beaches. Hotels have mainly reopened, but nightclubs remain closed.
The difference in treatment, however, between the various nations that make up the United Kingdom has, however, been criticised as confusing.
The quarantine rules for Wales apply from 04:00 BST today (Friday), while in Scotland they begin 24 hours later tomorrow. (Saturday).
Cases in Portugal have risen in the past week beyond the threshold at which ministers generally consider imposing 14-day mandatory self-isolation.
The Department for Transport said decisions around adding or removing countries from the quarantine list “take into account a range of factors” — including how many people are being tested.
In a tweet on Thursday, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “We continue to keep the travel corridor list under content review and won’t hesitate to remove countries if needed.”
“However, there are no English additions or removals today. Nonetheless, holidaymakers are reminded — 14-day quarantine countries can and do change at very short notice.”
As to the reason why England decided to keep Portugal off the quarantine list, a government health spokesman told the BBC, “Portugal has drastically increased its testing capacity, as well as taking measures to control the spread of the virus,” adding it would closely monitor the situation.
The latest quarantine rules introduced in Wales apply to travellers from Portugal, Gibraltar, six Greek islands and French Polynesia.
The six islands are Crete, Mykonos, Zakinthos (or Zante), Lesvos, Paros and Antiparos.
Scotland has already reintroduced self-isolation measures for arrivals from Greece and has now added Portugal and French Polynesia to its list of countries requiring quarantine.
“This week’s data shows an increase in test positivity and cases per 100k in Portugal,” said Scottish justice minister Humza Yousaf.
Changes to the rules for arrivals from Greece coming to England have been considered — but Greece will stay on its safe list for now.
In Portugal, the seven-day infection rate has increased from 15.3 to 23 per 100,000 people. This is above the threshold of 20 which is when the UK government generally considers triggering quarantine conditions.
Greece’s rate overall is below the threshold at 13.8 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 2 September, down from 14.9 a week earlier.
The changes have drawn criticism from industry experts as well as holidaymakers.
“The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy firm The PC Agency.
“Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the government’s own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country.”
“The current strategy has to change. The weekly reviews have been causing anxiety and financial pain for so many consumers and travel firms,” he added.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said, “Days of speculation around this announcement meant many people rushed to pay extortionate prices for flights back to England to avoid having to quarantine on their return — only to now find out there was no need”.
“The government knows this and yet it continues to offer no clarity around how these decisions are made.”