LONDON (Reuters) -Britain is set to remove Portugal from its quarantine-free travel list and no new countries will be added, the BBC reported, essentially shutting down the UK’s leisure travel market once again in a hammer blow for airlines.
Britain relaunched travel on May 17 following more than four months of lockdown, with Portugal the only big beach destination alongside the likes of Israel, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand.
Portugal proved a lifeline for airlines and travel companies over the last three weeks, and its removal will deepen the crisis for a travel industry which had looked to June for a recovery to start.
Shares in airlines easyJet and British Airways and travel companies TUI and Jet2 fell on fears that Europe would lose another peak travel season, when millions of Britons usually head to southern Europe in July and August.
The industry is already weakened by 15 months of lockdowns and it will be severely financially challenged if there is no reopening this summer.
Many companies had hoped for bumper trading given that Britain has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates and is gradually reopening its domestic economy.
But worries over the spread of new more transmissible variants of coronavirus and the vaccine’s efficacy against them are now threatening that plan.
Shares in easyJet and British Airways-owner IAG and Jet2 were all down 5% after the BBC reports. TUI, which has a big German customer base as well as British, lost 3%.
Under the UK system, travel to countries rated amber or red is not illegal but it is discouraged. Spain, France, Italy and the United States are on the amber list which means quarantining on return, restricting demand from Britons for what are usually the most popular destinations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had warned the travel industry that protecting the country’s vaccine roll-out was his priority.
“I want you to know we will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list to the red list if we have to do so. The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout, to protect the people of this country,” he told reporters.
Travel companies and airlines have criticised the government for being overly cautious, saying that increasing vaccination rates and testing can make travel safe. The government is due to update its plan later on Thursday.
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