Robert Jenrick has urged people not to travel to amber list countries unless for the most exceptional reasons, as he insisted: “You wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic light”.
The comments from the cabinet minister came as the government downgraded Portugal — the only mainstream holiday country on the green list — to amber, meaning travellers are forced to quarantine on return to the UK.
The change in guidance – taking effect from 4am on 8 June – was met with fury among the travel industry that only restarted legally 17 days ago, as Boris Johnson’s government removed a blanket ban on overseas holiday.
But it also comes amid fears of the transmissibility of the new Delta variant first detected in India and uncertainty over the domestic roadmap in England, with No 10 yet to decide whether to press ahead with the lifting of all coronavirus restrictions on 21 June.
Explaining the decision to remove Portugal from the green list , the communities secretary said Covid positivity rates in the country had “doubled” in the last three weeks and reiterated concerns from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, of “growing evidence of a further mutation being called the Nepal mutation”.
“We don’t yet know how much of a problem that is, how transmissibility is, whether it might be too difficult even for our vaccines. But it’s important that we take a cautious approach, and so we take action now whilst we do research and learn more about that variant,” he told Sky News.
“I completely understand how frustrating this is both for people in Portugal and for millions of people here who would love to go on holiday.”
On the amber list, he insisted: “You should not be going on holiday to countries on either the amber or red list.
“We were also clear if you chose to go on holiday to countries that are on the green list those countries are being reviewed every three weeks, so there is always a risk with a fast-moving situation with new variants that countries might either go on to that list or indeed come off.”
The communities secretary also dismissed Labour’s call to scrap the “confusing” amber list, saying: “Let me be clear: no-on should be going on holiday to any country that is on either the amber list or the red list.
“The only reason to travel to countries on the amber list are the most exceptional ones — it’s for example if you need to travel abroad for medical treatment, if you chose to go and visit a very sick relative, or to go to a funeral overseas. But again a very high bar should apply.”
Asked whether it was open to interoperation, he replied: “I hope people appreciate you shouldn’t be visiting those countries on the amber list for holidays, you wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic light, you shouldn’t be going on holiday to those countries either.”