SO that’s it. Just 18 days after restriction-free travel to Portugal was allowed, it has been relegated to the amber list and the holiday plans of millions are in disarray.
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Just 18 days after restriction-free travel to Portugal was allowed the country has been relegated to the amber listCredit: Shutterstock
More than 1,800 flights were due to depart the UK for Portugal this month, with almost 345,000 seats available.
Now those numbers will be cut to the bare minimum as demand falls off a cliff.
With such restrictions, travelling is now the reserve of the rich and the retired.
It is the nightmare scenario we were told would not be repeated after last year’s travel corridor chaos.
But such is the Government’s determination to put public safety at the forefront, Portugal and its islands of Madeira and the Azores have gone straight from green to amber with just four days’ notice.
That lack of warning has astonished travellers and the travel industry alike, who were told a green “watchlist” would be used this year to give holidaymakers two or three weeks’ notice if a country was at risk of moving to amber.
And to make matters worse, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has not put Portugal on its list of countries where they advise against all but essential travel.
That means tour operators can still technically operate trips to these countries alongside the Canary Islands and a selection of Greek islands, and others on the “safe to travel” list including St Lucia and Grenada.
Baffled holidaymakers face different rules and refund policies after Grant Shapps announced changes to the ‘green list’Credit: PA
So you now have the Department of Transport saying holidays are discouraged to amber list destinations but the FCDO saying some countries are safe to travel to, meaning flights and trips may not be cancelled.
Baffled holidaymakers face different rules and refund policies depending on which travel firm they have booked with.
For example, TUI is giving people the choice to rebook if they can’t travel to destinations the FCDO still says are safe — and they are cancelling trips to other amber countries.
Jet2 has cancelled all holidays until July 1.
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook — now an online agent — is giving people the chance to get money back, but only on hotel and transfers if airlines don’t cancel the flight.
Of course, there will be those that argue no one should be travelling after we as a nation have made so many sacrifices and endured so much hardship, and that until the entire country is vaccinated, it’s just too much of a risk.
We were told the nightmare scenario of last year’s travel corridor chaos would not be repeatedCredit: Rex
And the Government knows there are many who sympathise with the situation it is in, desperately trying to get on top of the Delta variant so it can meet its June 21 deadline for the final relaxation of social distancing.
Millions of us have already decided a holiday abroad this summer is just too complicated and too much of a risk, and have made plans to make the most of our coasts and countryside instead.
And there is an argument for restricting travel while we complete our vaccine rollout and provide protection against Covid to all
But all our sacrifice has to mean something.
And I believe it will.
There is still hope of a summer on a Med beach.
If we endure a few more weeks of restrictions, hopefully conditions will improve.
Nations across Europe will have vaccinated more of their populations, case numbers should then hopefully continue to fall.
By the next update on June 28, the situation may well be much rosier.
I have said over and over for the last few weeks that the Government really didn’t want us leaving the country in large numbers until July earliest.
Thursday’s announcement confirmed that.
Operator Jet2 has cancelled all holidays until July 1Credit: Alamy
Travellers will have to take two pricey PCR testsCredit: Medinow
But the removal of Portugal seems a step too far — crushing the hopes of a shattered travel industry desperate to begin a long, slow recovery and those travellers who yearned to be reunited with family, friends or simply fly and flop in the sun after a really tough year.
We can only hope that the cautious re-start of international travel will mean we can reap the benefits come the main summer holidays.
God knows, I think we deserve a break.
Here’s how to book that holiday safely
WITH travel looking so uncertain over the coming months, anyone who does want to secure a trip should take extra care to make sure their holiday cash is protected.
Here are my tips:
- Book an ATOL-protected package holiday with an establi-shed tour operator or travel agent. Buying a flight and one other element like accommodation or car hire is a package and means your trip is covered by the package travel regulations.
- Buy insurance as soon as you book your trip to take advantage of any cancellation cover. Check the policy carefully to see what, if any, cover it offers for Covid-19. Some policies have very limited protection and even the best will not cover you for all eventualities. Don’t forget to book insurance even if you are holidaying in the UK – it can be bought cheaply and offers protection for things like cancellation should something happen to stop you travelling.
- If booking flights only, double check exactly what flexible policies the airline offers. It may be worth paying a little extra for a flight if the airline will give you better rights should a flight have to be moved or cancelled. When getting travel insurance, check your policy covers scheduled airline failure.
- Always pay a deposit or the full balance of a holiday on a credit card – not a debit card – allowing you to benefit from Section 75 protection if the cost is between £100 and £30,000.