• Ryanair, Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports mount legal challenge against UK travel traffic light system

By Andrew Atkinson

SPAIN has been left scratching its head in the wake of the UK keeping the country on Amber in the controversial travel traffic lights system during COVID-19.

Despite Spain appealing against being kept on the amber list, with hopes of going onto green  due to the low cases of coronavirus, especially on the Costa Blanca, the request fell on deaf ears.

Now a call has been made for more transparency about how the UK government decides which countries qualify for the green list of safe places to visit amid the pandemic, with the BBC  that it has the backing of major UK airlines.

The traffic light system came into play, rating countries green, amber or red, based on their COVID-19 risks.

Ministers say the system ‘cautiously manages the risk of new variants’.

On that front it is the new Indian variant that has led to many of the decisions not going down well with major airlines.

Travellers to countries rated green will not need to isolate on their return, but will need to take a Covid test before and after their trip.

Arrivals from amber countries will need to quarantine, while red-list countries have the strictest rules, with only UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents, allowed to return, and having then to pay for a 10-day stay in a government quarantine hotel.

The challenge by Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group has been put together after huge frustration within the travel industry.

Portugal was included on the UK green list in mid-May – then removed a few weeks later.

The travel industry believes the Balearic and Greek Islands should have been included on the green list of countries last month when health data was analysed.

Bosses of Jet2 and EasyJet Holidays have told the BBC they do not understand why low infection destinations like Mallorca were left off the green list in the last review and questioned how government decisions are made, which also mirrored the refusal to allow the Costa Blanca onto the green list.

Ryanair chief, Michael O’Leary, wants UK PM Boris Johnson to explain the scientific basis behind the system, which he says the government seems to ‘make up, as it goes along’.

Demands for a quick response are crucial – with the summer season looming.

The UK government said at the time that moving Portugal from the green to amber list was necessary, because of an increase in infection rates in the country, and the emergence of the “Nepal variant”, a mutation of the Delta version of the virus first detected in India. There were concerns that vaccines would not work as well on this particular mutation.

Some British holidaymakers cut short their holidays and returned from Portugal on expensive extra flights put on by airlines – before the country came off the green travel list in early June.

Travellers were hit in their pockets costing hundreds of extra pounds to book new flights to return home before the deadline.

Travel bosses are concerned the damage of these sudden reversals will continue to erode the confidence of the British travelling public.

A huge increase in demand to travel abroad this summer has been aired by airlines on the back of three coronavirus lockdowns and high numbers of cancelled or postponed holidays.

Epidemiologists are concerned mass travel before more people are fully vaccinated, both in the UK and at holiday destinations, including Spain, will allow the virus to spread more rapidly.

If Covid cases spiral suddenly on holiday islands, it is not clear if their healthcare systems are in a position to manage the additional care.

“We recognise this is a challenging period for the sector, as we seek to balance the timely reopening of international travel while safeguarding public health and protecting the vaccine roll-out.

“We have provided £7bn to help support for the industry during the pandemic,” said a spokesperson from the UK government.  They could not comment on legal proceedings.

Thousands of employees in the Costa Blanca have been under the Furlough scheme since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March last year.

A plethora of businesses have also closed for good – underlined by airports being at an almost standstill.

However, amid COVID-19, Alicante-Elche airport are now seeing thousands of people travelling to the Costa Blanca provinces, including Torrevieja, the Orihuela Costa and Guardamar, where many UK ex-pats have holiday homes, and will spend their summer vacations once again.