Vaccine Wars –
British tourists who failed to fly back home from Portugal before travel restrictions went into effect on Tuesday, June 8, were required to quarantine at home for 10 days regardless of whether they were fully vaccinated. The mandatory quarantine sparked criticism from vacationers who already received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m not terribly happy about this situation especially as I’ve had both vaccinations,” said Kathy Kirby, a Londoner who was supposed to vacation for five days in Portugal. “I wouldn’t have thought I would have to go through 10 days of quarantine – what’s the point of having vaccinations if we end up having to quarantine?”
The U.K. officially moved Portugal to its “amber” list of countries on Tuesday due to a rise in infections and the emergence of the Nepal variant of the Wuhan coronavirus in the country. Portugal recorded one case of the variant when the move was announced last Thursday, June 3. Great Britain’s Department of Transport said that it was taking a “safety-first approach.”
The move meant that Britons coming from Portugal starting 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday were required to get tested for the coronavirus three days before their flight, self-isolate for up to 10 days and take a PCR test two and eight days after their arrival. (Related: Fauci claims mandatory Wuhan coronavirus quarantines are “justified” – but not those for Ebola.)
Marta Gaj, a Polish national based in the U.K., had the same complaint as Kirby. She is fully vaccinated and had done COVID-19 tests at work many times, but said she still “feels like a criminal.”
“I can’t really understand it because there must be more people being killed on the roads every day than there are dying from COVID,” the 35-year-old said.
She flew to Lisbon last week and expected to return to the U.K. without any problem. But because of the U.K.’s new classification for Portugal, she had to self-isolate and pay for extra COVID-19 tests.
“The whole procedure is very complicated and it is making me feel a bit like a criminal,” she said.
British travelers lost up to 4,000 pounds due to the UK’s travel requirements
The reclassification of Portugal forced several British tourists to cut their vacations short in order to catch the last flight home before the travel rules went into effect. Vacationers wound up spending a huge sum extra to get tested and reschedule their flights, but many did not make it on time because most flights were already fully booked.
Kirby said she paid 589 pounds trying to rebook a flight from Faro but she still missed the quarantine deadline.
“I’m not very happy because I made attempts to get back before the deadline for quarantine but unfortunately, it didn’t work,” the 64-year-old said. “I was very disappointed, I was only going on a five-day break anyway but it was cut back to three days. Unfortunately, I’ve ended up spending more money to get back.”
Irish airline Ryanair charged 285 pounds for a flight from Faro to Bournemouth in England a day before Portugal was added to the amber list. A week ago, it charged only 17 pounds for the same flight.
Ben Bolt, a car valet worker, said he stood to lose at least 4,000 pounds due to the reclassification. He was vacationing in Lisbon with his partner and tried to return home early, but he said it was impossible to book a flight.
“We won’t be traveling again this year. It’s not worth the stress,” the 28-year-old added. “I don’t know how we will make rent. We’re looking into grants or universal credit to cover it.”
The UK’s new classification for Portugal a big blow to the airline industry
The British government’s decision to move Portugal to the amber list is a big blow to an industry that was just beginning to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move instantly reduced the value of airlines by two billion pounds and risked creating another “jobs bloodbath.” The British organization Future of Aviation Group predicted that the move could cost the British economy as much as 11.5 billion pounds in outbound travel alone if the current restrictions were to remain in place through the next three months.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the British trade group ABTA – The Travel Association, said during a virtual meeting with the U.K.’s Treasury Select Committee on June 7: “Last week’s news regarding Portugal, one of the few countries on the green list, being placed on the amber list, was a real blow. It sent a signal to the industry and customers that … international travel is not going to come back as envisaged.” (Related: COVID-19 hits aviation industry: American Airlines grounds fleet, suspends flights.)
Tanzer urged the British government to stop requiring travelers who had been fully vaccinated to take a COVID-19 test upon returning to the U.K. Meanwhile, those who are not vaccinated should just take rapid lateral flow test, he said, which is designed to detect the Wuhan coronavirus in asymptomatic individuals.