Portugal is being dropped from England’s travel corridor list just weeks after it was added, meaning arrivals from the country will be forced to quarantine for a fortnight.
In a blow to holidaymakers, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who made the announcement on Thursday, confirmed that the changes would apply from 4am on Saturday, forcing travellers in Portugal to rush home to avoid quarantine.
But following Downing Street’s move towards regionalised travel restrictions announced earlier this week, the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores remain on the list of exempted locations.
Sweden, which pursued a light-touch approach to coronavirus restrictions, has been added to the travel corridor list for the first time. Hungary, French Polynesia and Réunion are among other locations that are being removed from the list of places free from quarantine restrictions.
Shapps warned that all people returning to the UK must complete a passenger locator form by law, tweeting: “This is vital in protecting public health and ensuring those who need to are complying with self-isolation rules. It is a criminal offence not to complete the form, and spot checks will be taking place.”
Boris Johnson pledged during a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday that Border Force would be stepping up its enforcement of quarantine measures. Last month, the Guardian revealed that Border Force officials were aiming to check less than a third of arrivals for passenger locator forms.
Portugal was first added to the travel corridor list on 22 August. Scotland, which along with other devolved nations has the power to make its own decisions on quarantine restrictions, has already removed Portugal from its list. On Thursday it announced that it was also removing Hungary and Réunion from the travel corridor, but adding Sweden, from 4am on Saturday.
Wales removed mainland Portugal last week, but kept Madeira and Azores on its list of exempt locations. It is also now removing Hungary and Réunion. Northern Ireland is making the same changes as England to the list.
On Wednesday, Portugal reported 646 new Covid-19 cases, its highest daily total since late April. Separately, the Department for Transport (DfT) said data indicated a consistent increase in new cases in Portugal over the past three weeks.
In Hungary there has been a 192% increase in new cases over the past week, DfT said. The number of new cases has increased from 1,042 between 27 August and 2 September to 3,047 between 3 and 9 September. There have also been consistent increases in coronavirus cases in French Polynesia and Réunion. However, DfT said Sweden was being added to the travel corridor after a confirmed decrease in cases.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has also updated its travel advice, now advising against all but essential travel to Portugal, Hungary, French Polynesia and Réunion. It has also amended advice on Sweden.
In the Commons on Monday, Shapps announced a new “islands policy”, with the government in effect embracing regional travel corridors for the first time. It means the government can distinguish between a country’s mainland and islands to make changes to locations on the travel list.
However, Shapps stopped short of saying the government would be implementing regional corridors within mainland countries, saying the data was too patchy and that there was nothing to stop people moving around. As he unveiled the new policy shift, Shapps confirmed that seven Greek islands were being removed from England’s list of locations exempt from 14-day Covid-19 quarantine – but not the country’s mainland.