More than 100,000 Brits are thought to be on holiday in Portugal, as the country is removed from the travel green list, it’s claimed.
Thousands could face having to stay in self-isolation on their return to the UK, if they can’t come back before Tuesday, when Portugal is moved to the Government’s amber list.
And many more decided to bite the bullet and head off on their holidays today, despite the cost of the 10 day quarantine and additional PCR tests needed from Tuesday.
Holidaymakers jetting off to Portugal at Gatwick Airport today lambasted the government’s last-minute decision, saying the move had plunged their trips into chaos.
Some expressed frustration that travel company Tui would not give them refunds for their flights, despite the amber list requirements adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of their trips away.
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Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, said it has 9,500 customers in Portugal but that was already due to have fallen to 2,000 by Tuesday because of the end of half-term for schoolchildren.
A spokeswoman said half of Tui’s customers with Portugal bookings for June have amended their trip – mostly until summer 2022 – while the other half plan to go ahead with it despite the quarantine rules.
“There is a lot of bewilderment and real frustration and confusion about what is happening,” she added.
Irina Kosovets, 33, and her husband, Andrew Kosevets, 34, were off on a one week break to the Portuguese island of Madeira. The couple, who both work in IT, were at Gatwick Airport to catch the Tui flight to Madeira’s capital, Funchal.
Mr Kosevets, an IT worker from Tower Hamlets, East London, said: “We’ve got to quarantine now – it’s annoying but it’s not the end of the world so we will survive.
“We will have to pay for the additional tests and that’s the only real problem.
“It was a little bit disappointing that Tui didn’t offer us anything, except free booking for other dates. None of the other dates worked for us unfortunately. They wouldn’t give us a refund.
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“We booked our flights away in 2020 so we didn’t want to waste them. I’m excited to travel around the island and do some sightseeing.”
Couple, Lynn, 62, and Mark, 65, were running late after deciding to take-up their flights to the Portuguese island of Madeira at the last minute.
After the sudden announcement of Portugal’s inclusion on the Amber List today, their trip was plunged into jeopardy, but they opted to catch the Tui flight to Madeira’s capital Funchal so that they could still see their daughter there.
Lynn, who is from the south of England, said: “It was a last minute decision and we are running late.
“I didn’t sleep last night at all. We weren’t going to come when Portugal got added to the Amber list but it was too late to do anything.
“Our trip was supposed to be two weeks. I’ve been on the phone to Tui all morning.
“It has been a complete nightmare and we got stuck in traffic on the way here to the airport too.
“I’m meeting my daughter there so we decided to go. She flies back on Monday so just misses it going on the Amber List. She just misses all the hassle.
“We’ve been trying to sort out the quarantine situation and tests this morning. We’ve got to get the day eight test now. It’s going to add a lot on to the cost of the trip.”
According to figures from footfall data firm Huq Industries, some 112,177 Brits were still in the holiday destination as of today – with a chaotic scramble expected for flights home over the weekend.
Conrad Poulson, the firm’s chief exec said: “Assuming the largest capacity Boeing 737 or equivalent can carry around 230 people that equates to around 487 flights to get every one of the remaining 112,177 people home.”
Hayley Bridges, 39, from Clapham, south-west London was arriving back at Gatwick Airport after a short break in Madeira.
She said: “I’ve had a lovely time but I’m glad to be back before Tuesday because all the tests are such a pain.
“Going through the airport on both sides was so easy, easier than usual, even though the flight was full.
“My tests cost me a total of £120 but in Portugal they were doing free tests too.”
Retired restaurateurs, David Weston, 69, and Wendy Weston, 70, were returning from a holiday on the Portuguese island of Madeira with their friend, Edel Pyrgos, 61, a cover supervisor.
They were gobsmacked that the country was added to the Amber List last-minute today.
Edel, who lives in Elmsbridge, Surrey, said: “I was absolutely astonished when I saw Portugal had been added to the Amber List.
“Everything there was so clean and so well organised.
“They’re giving free tests out there and the locals get tested every two weeks.
“I had to pay for an antigen test in Madeira because I didn’t have a PCR test going out.”
Mr Weston, who lives in Wales, said: “We’ve never felt so safe as in Madeira.
“The check-in was a dream and they had all the correct different channels for the paperwork. It worked really well.
“The Portuguese were so glad to see us back and they couldn’t understand why they had been added to Amber.”
Kim Roberts, 24, and her boyfriend Hector Meyer, 27, were at the airport waiting to check-in for their flight to Ibiza, having returned from a short break in Portugal last week. The couple said they were relieved they hadn’t had to cover the extra costs of tests for both trips.
Kim, a sales manager, said: “I’ve got quite a lot of friends who are travelling there tomorrow and they’re having to spend an extra £500 on tests. One guy has got two kids and he has to pay for additional tests for them all.”
Hector, a brand manager, added: “I couldn’t stand the test myself. It made me gag – imagine having to get a kid to do one.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said positive cases had doubled in the last three weeks in Portugal.
But Portuguese epidemiologist Professor Henrique Barros said moving the country off the green list was an “overreaction” and the overall situation in the country was “relatively stable.”
And Cristovao Norte, Portuguese MP for the Algarve, said he is “perplexed” by decision.
He told the BBC: “We were not expecting the decision because there haven’t been major changes in Portugal, just a spike in the Lisbon area.
“But we have 66 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Our rate of transmission is more or less the UK rate, so we weren’t expecting this decision from the English government.
“We wear masks, we obey the rules, we maintain social distancing, vaccination is growing steadily. So I’m a little bit perplexed.”
Dame Irene Hays, owner of travel agent Hays Travel, said she was “surprised and obviously disappointed” at the decision to put Portugal on the amber list.
She said she was “disappointed for our customers, disappointed for the travel industry and really disappointed for Portugal, because they’ve tried so hard and their infection rates are so low.
“I know they’re rising in Lisbon, but it’s quite a way from the Algarve, which is where most of the tourists are”.
Mr Jenrick said: “You shouldn’t be going on holiday to any country that is on the red or the amber list.
“I wouldn’t recommend speculatively booking holidays to those places either. If you do choose to book to a country that is currently on the green list, be careful as things can change, as we’ve seen, and if you do, certainly make sure you are doing it with a breaker that could give you the degree of flexibility that you need so you don’t find yourself losing out.”
Meanwhile, Mr Jenrick was branded “out of touch” after telling Brits eager to go on foreign holidays: “You wouldn’t drive through an amber light”.
The minister urged people not to take holidays in countries on the amber list – which includes popular holiday destinations like Spain, Italy and France.
He told Sky News: “I hope people will appreciate that you shouldn’t be visiting those countries on the amber list for holidays. You wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic lights, you shouldn’t be going on holiday to those countries either.”