Portugal’s ambassador to London has called for a swift “air bridge” deal to avoid returning holidaymakers having to self-isolate for two weeks.
Manuel Lobo Antunes made the demand as pressure grows on the government to ease the UK’s blanket quarantine rules.
Since 8 June, almost all arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals have been required to go home and stay there for 14 days.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Department for Transport officials are negotiating reciprocal no-quarantine deals known as “air bridges” or “travel corridors” with key destination countries.
They offer a way to neutralise the policy without the government having to commit another U-turn.
The Portuguese ambassador said: “The British authorities are very much aware of our wish, of our timings. Contacts have been made.
“We have expressed our wish for an air bridge. But this is two for tango.”
Concern has been raised about a recent outbreak of Covid-19 in the Algarve on the south coast of Portugal, with at least 69 new cases. The spike in cases has been traced back to a birthday party.
“Measures to avoid the spread of this focus have been taken immediately and the situation is completely under control,” said Mr Lobo Antunes.
The first review date for the UK quarantine policy is 29 June. A series of leaks by senior government sources indicate that a relatively small number of countries will be covered: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece, as well as three business destinations: Germany, Finland and the Netherlands.
But other tourist-hungry nations, including the European Union members Croatia, Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia, will be outraged if they are excluded — as will the non-EU nations, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
The Foreign Office is known to be concerned about the diplomatic rifts that could be caused. Commonwealth islands in the Caribbean are lobbying to be included.
There are also fears that the UK could be taken to court for restriction of movement across Europe, as it is still part of the EU legal regime.
France has imposed a reciprocal quarantine requirement on arrivals from the UK in retaliation to the British move, but stresses that 14 days of self-isolation is “voluntary” rather than mandatory.
In the seven weeks since the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, came up with the plan to introduce blank quarantine, bookings for outbound and inbound travel this summer have collapsed.
The policy has been championed by the home secretary, Priti Patel, and is backed by Labour.
But it is being increasingly challenged by Conservative backbenchers concerned about the damage quarantine is causing to the travel industry.
The Cornwall councillor responsible for tourism has warned that an unintended consequence could be to increase infections in popular holiday locations in the UK.
The three biggest airlines operating in the UK — British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair — are seeking a judicial review of the policy. They say quarantine is disproportionate and that they were not consulted on the plan, and have demanded to see the government’s scientific justification.
The government insists: “The quarantine system is informed by science, backed by the public and designed to keep us all safe.”
The airport ground-handling company, Swissport, has proposed a system of testing to allow arrivals to avoid self-isolation.