A senior cabinet minister has insisted Brits should “holiday at home”, despite the government holding back from imposing an outright ban on traveling to popular holiday destinations such as Spain and Portugal.
Environment secretary George Eustice warned if people want to go abroad then there are “obviously risks in doing so” even if the country is on the government’s ‘green list’ – and “don't travel unless it's absolutely necessary”.
Thousands of holidaymakers rushed back to the UK from Portugal over the weekend, after it was announced last week it would be placed on the ‘amber list’ from this morning, meaning anyone returning will have to spend 10 days in self-isolation on their return.
The decision to move it off the 'green list', which does not require any time in quarantine, saw airports packed over the weekend with people trying to get back before the rule change came into force at 4am this morning.
It has prompted fears foreign travel will not be available to most Brits for several more months as key destinations remain off-limits for holidays as minister try to keep new Covid-19 variants at bay.
Eustice told Sky News yesterday: "I will be staying at home. I have no intention of travelling or going on a holiday abroad this summer.
"Some people may, but they have to understand that there are obviously risks in doing so because it is a dynamic situation.
"But I think most people will probably decide this year to stay at home, holiday at home.
“We’ve got some fabulous places to visit in this part of the country, not least of course Cornwall, where there will be a very, very busy summer I’m sure.”
Ministers have so far stopped short of directly telling people not to travel abroad, but Eustice was far more explicit this morning.
“I think, my advice to people would be holiday at home," he said.
“There are still a small number of countries on that green list. If they want to do that they can, but obviously they will have to understand there are risks in doing so as well.”
He added: "Our advice has been don't travel unless it's absolutely necessary.
"Obviously we had hoped, with these three categories that we had, we had hoped that situation would be improving in other parts of the world, that we'd be able to progressively add other countries to the green list.
"Sadly, that's not the situation, we do have this new variant of concern first identified in India that is now cropping up in other countries, and we've just got to take a very cautious approach."
The environment secretary also defended the decision not to put India on the ‘red list’ earlier when infections were rising, saying the country had better testing in place than its neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, which were placed on it.
"Initially, the incidence of the virus in people arriving from India was lower and, overall, while they were reporting high numbers of cases, that's because they were doing more testing,” he said.
"We were also looking at factors such as their ability to do genome sequencing and we're looking at all of this where we assess other countries."
He denied the decision was political, adding: "India was added as soon as we saw a spike in rates and as soon as we saw there was a reason to."
Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.