Portugal’s main holiday airport, Faro, is the location for chaotic scenes as holidaymakers end their trips early to avoid quarantine.
More than 40 flights from the Algarve airport are scheduled to operate to the UK, carrying an estimated 7,000 passengers. British Airways is deploying its biggest jet, the Boeing 777, to boost capacity in the evacuation.
Seats are selling for €406 (£350) on the final BA departure to Heathrow. The airline is allowing passengers with later bookings to switch free of charge to get out before self-isolation become a requirement.
Tens of thousands of British travellers had flocked to Portugal, particularly the Algarve, after it became the only accessible mainstream holiday destination on the quarantine-free “green list” on 17 May.
But despite a promise that holidaymakers would be warned of a possible change, last Thursday Portugal was moved abruptly from the green list to amber, taking effect at 4am on Tuesday 8 June.
The announcement triggered a scramble for flights to the UK, with airlines laying on extra flights. Even on Sunday night, Faro airport was stretched to the limit.
Victoria Richards, who was flying from the Algarve airport to London Stansted, said: “Faro airport is hot and chaotic and confusing. The lines of passengers are longer than I’ve ever seen them.
“Social distancing is therefore impossible: we were crammed in centimetres behind each other, let alone two metres.
“A number of passengers are having to be rushed through security, presumably made late for their flight thanks to the lengthy queues at check-in.
“Outside the airport there are pop up Covid testing desks and queues of people waiting for those, too.”
“Anyone travelling in the next 24 hours is going to need to allow at least an hour’s extra time to get through, given the huge lines of people waiting.”
The final flight out before the 4am deadline is on Wizz Air from Faro to Doncaster Sheffield, due to arrive at 2.05am. It is selling for €255 (£221) one way.
In April the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “To give passengers more certainty when travelling, a ‘green watchlist’ will be introduced to help identify countries most at risk of moving from ‘green’ to ‘amber’.”
Instead, the pattern established last summer was repeated, with holidaymakers desperately seeking short-notice flights to get home.
Portugal’s ambassador to the UK, Manuel Lobo Antunes, has deplored the government’s move. Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “It is simply incorrect to say that the number of cases in Portugal has recently doubled.
“I suspect that in this respect the UK may have actually performed worse than Portugal, as its numbers are increasing daily. This, in fact, should not come entirely as a surprise: it is quite “normal” that as we begin to emerge from lockdown, the number of infections will increase.”