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From green to amber – why?

Portugal and the UK have had close ties dating back hundreds of years. But these strong ties are being threatened by an incompetent British government whose motto, which has now been made public, is Britain First, not even UK First (as they are happy to send Northern Ireland to the dogs, thanks to BJ’s version of a Brexit deal, creating a border down the Irish sea).

It is now a second time that Johnson and his cabinet have shafted Portugal. It was also for a period of three weeks in 2020 that BJ gave hope and expectations of a good summer for tourism and hospitality, and hence, the economy for Portugal. Then the corridor was shut. And what has he done again? The same thing, though this time giving people four days’ notice instead of two before the impact of having to quarantine for 10 days took effect.

The government are allied to holidays in the sun as they are known by the footwear of holidaymakers – they flip flop from one thought to another, one decision to another and one strategy to another, all the time hiding behind the point that this pandemic is new and they are still learning.

Red, amber, green. Why not add pink, brown or black (though those colours may give rise to racialist complaints on top of the infamous description of Muslims dressed like letterboxes). The confusion that has arisen and is still the case, which BJ’s traffic lights have stirred up, is yet another example of a muddled failed strategy. When green was announced, do we remember ministers coming on TV and making contradictory statements about what green and amber meant (could they travel to an amber country? One said yes, but they must quarantine on return. Another said no, people should not go on holiday)?

It will be interesting to see how many people have been turned away at the airports from flying due to the confusion. Sure, you can blame the public for not finding out what was allowed and what documentation was needed, but one needs to understand the root cause of the problem.

Look what’s happening in the US. The infection rates have come down significantly, people are travelling now and vaccinations are being quickly carried out.

The UK flip flops between dates and data. BJ uses scientific data when it suits him but ignores it when it doesn’t suit him. One might (though I don’t) forgive him for the first lockdown timing. But not the second and third when the scientists and medics (and the Labour Party, I will add) were all advising him on a quicker lockdown and not to open up for Christmas. Why Christmas? Because he thought it would be a popular decision (another price to pay for populism). And what about not closing the border with the Indian variant, which was another BJ disaster, all because he wanted to fly to India for a trade deal (good ol’ Brexit) and he didn’t want to quarantine in an airport hotel for 14 days on his return.

The government knew about variants occurring and indeed how transmissible the Indian variant was, especially after failing to close the border with India and direct flights. Yet it continued its communication that the UK must get back to international travel, setting expectations to the world, especially Europe.

It set itself up for a fall and Europe has suffered again, more from the point of view that Europe made significant plans to welcome UK tourists (perhaps a Brexit revenge by UK government?). If they are so worried about the variants, then why not shut UK down again? After all, there has been a 100% increase in the Indian variant in the last week in the UK.

The government have not made it totally clear as to why they moved Portugal from green to amber. They say they are worried about a new variant and a 100% increase in infection rate. These are general statements with no detail attached giving real reasons why such a huge decision was taken.

The worry about a new variant is going to happen all the time as we now have to live with this virus, probably forever, just like the flu. Does this mean that each time a variant is found, everything must shut down until everything is known about the variant? But when does it become a real concern? Clearly, they got the Indian variant wrong and BJ is feeling guilty about that but will not admit to it. The government is afraid of making another mistake as they did with the Kent variant and the original Indian variant. But what statistics should give rise to a concern changing decision? Portugal, they say, have 66 cases of the Delta variant. Portugal say 12 and they are controlled.

There are no new countries moving to green including those with very low infection rates, e.g. Malta. It has an infection rate of just seven per 100,000 and a similar vaccination rate to the UK. Let them explain why they should not be on the green list.

75% of the UK population have been vaccinated. You would think that this group would have sufficient protection against Covid. You would think that Covid testing on exit and entry to the country would provide sufficient protection. Apparently not. But if sufficient protection is there, then other reasons for closing the border prevail – government fear of making more mistakes which have made them extra cautious, having an even greater impact on the UK economy and those of other countries dependent on tourism.

Customer confidence on foreign travel has been shattered and that is due to the government’s poor strategy, communication breakdown and flip flop approach to opening up. When Schapps was giving his announcement on Portugal coming off the green list and no countries added, he was actually smiling when he said it and said firstly that it was a difficult decision. Anyone who is given the role of presenting bad news does not smile! It is the non-verbal sign that that person does not care about the impact and may even suggest it is a joke.

Why did the government not consult airlines, travel companies, foreign governments on their big travel decision? Because imposition rather than consultation is their preferred method. Why not give the tourists a more reasonable period of notice (especially those in the safest place in Europe in the Algarve), so they can get back without quarantine (and the huge impact on their working lives) and avoid the ridiculous rush for early flights (at hugely inflated prices), the long queues for testing, often involving their missing their flights.

Why not give a notice period that coincides with their scheduled departure date, but only for those who booked during the green period? And it must not be forgotten that they will be tested in any event before and after arrival in the UK. Or are the tests worthless?

BJ has made a promise to send excess vaccines to poorer countries, from the 400 million ordered. Sounds good and generous, doesn’t it? Then read the small print.

It will decide on this later in the year when all in UK are vaccinated. The world’s need is now. UK has not sent one jab to a poorer country yet. Yet, they say all the right things, that this is a global pandemic and no-one is safe until everyone is safe. As usual, all words and promises but backed up by so little.

There might come a time when Portugal breaks off diplomatic relations with the UK. The government here are furious. And rightly so. But so are other governments, whose country has been kept at or put on the amber and red lists based on very poor decisions, which appear to be political rather than scientific, by a government guilty of gross mismanagement and now fearful of making more mistakes.

Alan Ford