Boris Johnson has said Britons should not travel to ‘amber’ list destinations just hours after one of his own cabinet ministers caused confusion by claiming it was acceptable to visit countries like France and Spain to see friends.
The Prime Minister said it was “very important” people understood the government’s new traffic light system. ‘Amber’ list countries should not be considered holiday destinations, he said.
“It is not somewhere you should be going on holiday, let me be very clear about that,” he said.
“If people do go to an amber list country – if they absolutely have to for some pressing family or urgent business reason – … please bear in mind that you will have to self isolate, you will have to take tests and do a passenger locator form and all the rest of it.”
The required 10 day self isolation period would be enforced by fines of up to £10,000, he added.
No 10 also slapped down George Eustice’s suggestion that people can travel to amber list countries to visit friends.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “The position remains that people should not travel to amber list countries and that’s to protect public health.”
The small number of limited reasons where it might be acceptable to travel included for work purposes, protecting essential services or compassionate reasons such as a funeral or care of a family member, he added.
At the weekend, the health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The red and amber list countries are places that you shouldn’t go to unless you have an absolutely compelling reason.”
But, on Monday, thousands of people flew out of Britain on up to 150 flights to amber list sunspots such as Greece, France, Spain and Italy.
Asked about the apparent muddle, Mr Eustice, the environment secretary, said the amber list was for people who “feel they need to travel either to visit family or friends”.
“They can travel to those countries but they then have to observe quarantine when they return and have two tests after returning,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
“People can travel to those areas but they then have to subject themselves to the quarantine requirements.”
The first air passengers enjoying the lifting of the travel ban also faced border queues of up to three hours at Heathrow passport control, some said.
Some travellers told of being forced to stand side by side with arrivals from India – one of the UK’s red list destinations and the source of the variant behind a surge in infections.
The overcrowding was partly blamed on a shortage of Border Force officials, despite repeated pleas from airlines and airports for more staff to prevent long queues.
Only 12 countries or territories – including Australia and New Zealand, which have barred travel anyway – are on the green list for quarantine-free visits.
All of Europe except Portugal and Gibraltar, and North America, has been designated amber, requiring up to ten days’ isolation at home upon return to the UK.
Forty-three countries are on the red list, which requires those arriving in Britain to quarantine in a hotel.
Mr Hancock has come under fire over his weekend instruction to UK holidaymakers not to travel to amber list’ – as well as red list – countries.
The advice had previously been stated on a government website, but the health secretary’s warning still came as a shock to many would-be tourists.
Huw Merriman, the Conservative chairman of the Commons transport committee, accused Mr Hancock of “effectively turning the amber list into the red list”, asking: “What is the point in me having my passport anymore?”
But the health secretary underlined the stance, saying: “If it isn’t on a green list, then unless you have an exceptional reason you should not be travelling there.”