Fears foreign holidays under threat from ‘Nepal variant’ spreading in Europe

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 8:37 am
There are fears that Portugal could be stripped of its green list travel status (Photo: Shutterstock)

Foreign holidays could be at risk from a new strain of Covid-19 which is thought to have originated in Nepal, it has been reported.

The mutation, dubbed the ‘Nepal variant’, is thought to have spread into some European countries and could jeopardise the easing of travel restrictions in the affected areas.

Nepal's second wave has been driven by the spread of the B.1.167 variant from neighbouring India, but scientists warned on Wednesday (2 June) evening that another variant of Covid-19 has since been identified.

Could the variant impact Portugal's green list status?

The UK government is expected to update the travel traffic light system on Thursday (3 June), which could see countries change between the green, amber and red lists.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the government will have “no hesitation” in moving countries off the green list if necessary, and said it will “wait and see” what the recommendations are from the Joint Biosecurity Centre before making an announcement.

There are fears that Portugal could be stripped of its green list travel status after scientists alerted ministers to the ‘Nepal variant’, the Mail Online reports.

Scientists from the Joint Biosecurity Centre are reportedly concerned about rising infection rates and the emergence of mutations in the holiday hotspot.

However, a member of the government’s SAGE committee said officials should not be overly concerned about the variant just yet, stating: “There are thousands of variants. This is a virus that is changing all the time."

Tory peer Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, chairman of the Airport Operators' Association, told the publication: "How many more variants have we got to be worried about?

"What matters is data and the success of our vaccination programme."

Whitehall sources told the newspaper that any additions to the green list will be “extremely limited”, with expectations the list of countries holidaymakers can visit without quarantine on return to the UK will remain very restricted until August.

Portugal is one of just 12 countries currently on the green list, alongside Gibraltar, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore and the Falkland Islands.

Nepal is currently on the red list, meaning travellers will be required to quarantine in a hotel and take Covid-19 tests on their return to the UK.

Tory peer Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, chairman of the Airport Operators' Association, said: "How many more variants have we got to be worried about? What matters is data and the success of our vaccination programme."

While concern about the variant is one of the main reasons more holiday destinations may not be added to the green list, ministers are also concerned about the slower pace of the vaccine rollout across Europe.

Despite falling Covid-19 cases in many parts of Europe, the continent is still far behind the UK’s vaccine rollout.

‘We’ve got to be cautious’

The decision on adding more countries to the green list is based on a range of criteria, taking into account public health advice and the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessment of the latest Covid data.

The criteria for the lists includes:

  • The percentage of a country’s population that have been vaccinated
  • The rate of infection
  • The prevalence of variants of concern
  • The country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing

Mr Johnson said that while the government wants to open up more foreign travel, this needs to be done cautiously.

He said: “We are going to try and allow people to travel as I know many people want to, but we’ve got to be cautious.

“We’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary.

“We will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list to the red list if we have to do so.

“The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout to protect the people of this country.”