‘Safety-first’: Grant Shapps defends Portugal quarantine move – new variant concerns

Shapps on variant concerns as Portugal moved to amber list

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Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has confirmed Portugal will be axed from the UK green list, meanwhile seven countries will be moved onto the red list. The transport secretary has given his sympathy to the floundering travel industry and assured more support it on hand for its workers.

The Global Travel Taskforce has been pouring over data in the run-up to the announcement, looking at four main criteria to determine whether or not quarantine-free travel is safe.

Portugal, unfortunately, did not meet all of the criteria which includes the percentage of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, the prevalence of variants of concern and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

Mr Shapps told BBC News: “I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end, we’ve seen two things really which have caused concern.

“One is that the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal, and the other is that there’s a Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variants which has been detected.”

He pointed out that any new variants or mutations can impact the effectiveness of vaccines which are currently being rolled out around the world.

“We just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk, as we come up to June 21,” he said.

Mr Shapps continued: “What I want to do with today is difficult, but I hope decisive action, is make sure that we protect the future by not restarting problems which may or may not be there at home, we’ll be able to get international travel down the line open more quickly.

“It’s a safety-first approach given where we are in the fourth stage of the unlock.”

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The airline industry has slammed the Government for the sudden move, well as the decision not to add any new destinations to the green list.

Johan Lundgren, CEO of EasyJet, commented: “This shock decision to add Portugal to the amber list is a huge blow to those who are currently in Portugal and those who have booked to be reunited with loved ones or take a well-deserved break this summer with Portugal rates similar to those in the UK it simply isn’t justified.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, British Airways described the change as “incredibly disappointing and confusing news, not just for aviation but also for our customers.”

The transport secretary has leant his sympathy to the floundering travel industry and assured more support it on hand for its workers.

“The support for the travel industry, who goodness knows have suffered throughout this crisis, is ongoing,” he explained.

“We’ve got £7 billion worth of support, which is still being paid out right now, including through the furlough scheme.”

The traffic light system is set to be reviewed every three weeks by the Global Travel Taskforce.

Experts had previously predicted Malta, the Greek and Balearic Islands could have made the cut for today’s review.

However, it seems holidaymakers will now have to wait until July for more holiday options.

When asked if future variants could spark further changes, Mr Shapps said: “We will look to the Joint Biosecurity Centre – in other words, the epidemiologist the experts to tell us when they think something is worthy of sufficient concern.

“I have to say we do on the side of caution.

“But I think the public would expect us to do so after everything everyone’s been through the last year and a half, we want to give ourselves the best possible chance of that domestic unlock.

“We don’t want to see a potentially vaccine defeating mutation, come in, and it’s better therefore to act, rather than to leave it and regret it later.”

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