Portugal had to be hauled off travel green list to stop new 'Nepal variant' wrecking hopes of ending lockdown on June 21
PORTUGAL was hauled off the travel green list to stop the emergence of a new "Nepal variant" there wrecking homes of ending lockdown on June 21.
Cabinet big beast Robert Jenrick defended the decision to dash millions of Brits' holiday hopes by turning the country amber.
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The housing secretary said ministers had to move quickly and suggested people should think twice about booking and foreign trips in future.
Lisbon expressed dismay and confusion after it was yanked off the quarantine-free list in a shock decision yesterday evening.
Brits on holiday in the country now have until 4am on Tuesday morning to return home or they'll face mandatory 10 day self-isolation.
Mr Jenrick said he appreciated the decision was "very disappointing and frustrating" but it was needed to "protect the UK from infection".
He said: "Two things have occurred in Portugal. Firstly, the amount of positivity has increased significantly.
"It's doubled in the last three weeks to a level much higher than we have here in the UK.
"Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, although both countries have prevalence of the Indian variant we're also seeing in Portugal now growing evidence of a further mutation being called the Nepal variant.
"We don't yet know how much of a problem that is, how transmissible it is, whether it might be too difficult even for our vaccines.
"But it's important we take a cautious approach, so we take action now while we do research and learn more about that variant."
Mr Jenrick said ministers had taken the snap decision amid concerns the June 21 date for ending the lockdown could be derailed.
He said: "It's right to take a cautious approach because we want to protect this country.
"We want to ensure, if we can, we continue to move through the roadmap and do everything we can right now as we're approaching an important decision about whether the June 21 reopening can go ahead.
"It is important now for us to be careful, not to jeopardise the progress that we've made, and to do everything we possibly can to set the country up for a further reopening."
Mr Jenrick said "there's nothing at the moment that suggests we won't be able to move forwards" with the June 21 date.
The cabinet big beast also defended the lack of notice Brits either in the country or planning to go there have received.
He said the Government had no choice but to act because the situation in Portugal is changing "quickly".
And he added: "Imagine if we were to learn that this new mutation was the one that compromised the vaccine. It isn't worth taking a risk."
Ministers had promised there would be no return to the travel corridors chaos of last summer.
Even transport secretary Grant Shapps was famously caught out when his own department changed the rules while he was in Spain.
This time officials had promised to issue early warnings for countries that could fall off the green list.
Instead, people on holiday in Portugal now have just four days to try and catch flights home.
Mr Jenrick also revealed fellow cabinet minister Michael Gove is self-isolating after attending the Champions League final in Porto last weekend.
And he suggested Brits shouldn't bank on getting to any of the places on the amber or red lists this summer.
He said: "I personally wouldn't book any holidays in the future for countries that are on those lists.
"There remains a small number of countries on the green list, but even there if you are booking holidays be careful, speak to your operator, see that there's flexibility in case you need to change plans later on this summer."
Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford also urged people to shun foreign holidays in favour of a staycation this summer.
He said: "Where people choose to go abroad they must do so with their eyes open that they take the risk.
"If ever there was a year to take your holiday at home, surely this year is it."
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