A cabinet minister has defended the “cautious start” to reopening international holiday travel in the face of industry demands to expand the quarantine-free green list of foreign destinations.
Speaking to Sky News, Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged it was a “modest first step”, but said the line-up of approved countries would be regularly reviewed and as the global coronavirus situation improved more would be added.
Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel are among just 12 destinations which will be on the green list from 17 May when the ban on overseas leisure trips is lifted – with some countries featured still not accepting holidaymakers.
Holiday hotspots Spain, France, Italy and Greece have been added to the amber list – destinations which people are advised not to travel to, and from which arrivals must self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival tests.
The industry has warned the government approach could hamper the recovery of the travel sector, which has borne the economic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Couples, who do not live in qualifying countries, have also said they feel “forgotten” by the green list for travel.
But health experts have backed the limited steps taken by the government describing them as “sensible”.
Mr Eustice said: “This is a cautious start to try and loosen up travel. We have been cautious about loosening the restrictions throughout.”
Pointing out the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had made clear the list would be reviewed every three weeks, he added: “This is the initial list.
“I know it’s a modest first step.
“But it will be reviewed again in three weeks’ time and as the situation changes and improves more countries will be added to that green list.”
People returning to England from a green destination from 17 May will not have to self-isolate and are only required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test.
The green list also features several remote British Overseas Territories and destinations where visits are heavily restricted, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands.
Virgin Atlantic has called for the US to be added to the green list.
A spokesman said: “There is no reason for the US to be absent from the green list.
“This overly cautious approach fails to reap the benefits of the UK’s successful vaccination programme.”
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: “The decision to put so few European countries into the green tier is simply not justified by the data or the science and is inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy.”
Airlines UK, an industry body which represents UK carriers, said the government must make “major additions” to the green list at the next review point in three weeks.
Chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “This is a missed opportunity and, with so few countries making it on to the green list, represents a reopening of air travel in name only.”
British Airways boss Sean Doyle said the advice was “disappointing” and added: “We cannot stress more greatly that the UK urgently needs travel between it and other low-risk countries, like the US, to restart the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
Alyssa Pallotti, from Texas, has been separated from her partner, Jacob Greenwood, who lives in Bracknell, Berkshire.
She said: “I’ve heard the UK government talking about holidays, holidays, holidays when it comes to this green list, and we feel very forgotten.
“We are actually classed as leisure travel – like seeing your partner is not considered essential. In the US or UK, it is considered a luxury.”
The announcement on green list countries prompted a surge in sunseekers booking trips to Portugal, with Thomas Cook reporting that demand went “through the roof”.
Meanwhile, ministers are in discussions with UEFA over hosting the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City in Britain following the decision to add Turkey to the “red list” of hotel quarantine countries.
Mr Eustice told Sky News: “The UK is willing to offer to host it here if that makes things easier but obviously it would be a decision for UEFA on that particular match.
“The difficulty is we have had to take a decision on Turkey based on the evidence. We do so on objective criteria and that’s why sadly we have had to put Turkey on the red list.”