The Balearic Islands have been placed back on the amber list only a fortnight after going green, throwing plans for a summer getaway for thousands of young people into disarray.
On Thursday night, ministers were facing a widespread backlash from travel industry leaders and Tory MPs after Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, confirmed that Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca and Formentera will lose their quarantine-free status.
The British Virgin Islands will also be demoted to the amber list, despite only being put on the green list at the end of June.
The change, due to come into effect next Monday, is likely to lead to a desperate rush by British holidaymakers to get back to the UK in time to avoid the need to quarantine at home for 10 days and pay for two extra tests.
While travel companies and airlines are expected to put on extra flights, the last-minute scramble is likely to see a repeat of the queues and difficulties that tourists in Portugal experienced when it was taken off the green list in June.
There are an estimated 200,000 British tourists currently holidaying in the Balearics.
Ministers decided on the changes to the travel lists after receiving analysis from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Other changes include Bulgaria and Hong Kong going green, while Croatia and Taiwan will be added to the green watch list. Travel experts described the change to Hong Kong’s status as “pointless”, as the territory requires Britons to quarantine on arrival.
Cuba, Indonesia, Myanmar and Sierra Leone will be added to the red list, meaning 10 days of isolation in a quarantine hotel are mandatory.
The changes will be implemented at 4am on July 19, when the home quarantine requirement for double vaccinated Britons returning from amber list countries will end.
However, with the latest statistics on vaccination rates suggesting that just one in four under-40s have received both jabs, holiday plans for thousands of younger people still face being thrown into chaos.
While older families will largely be unaffected due to unvaccinated children being exempt from quarantine, anybody arriving back from the Balearics from Monday who has failed to receive a second jab will be required to enter quarantine for 10 days.
It came as Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, claimed that people planning to go abroad this summer were making a choice “that puts other people at risk”.
Urging people to holiday in Wales, he told a press conference: “Here in Wales, our problems in the autumn of last year undoubtedly began when people returned to Wales from other countries in Europe, bringing the virus with them.
“All of those seem to me to be risks that we could have mitigated by doing more to persuade people this year, one year, to stay at home.”
Travel countries on the red, green and amber list
Virginia Messina, the World Travel and Tourism Council senior vice president, said the change would “throw summer holidays into disarray for tens of thousands of people”.
“Businesses given the lifeline of holidays to the Balearics will also be left floundering as bookings collapse and customers clamour for refunds, piling on further financial pressure.
“There may be some good news with Croatia and Bulgaria moving up the scale and being added to the green list. But the overall impact is one of confusion, which will only deter more Brits from holidaying abroad as the summer season slips away.”
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said the constant moving of countries between tiers was “shattering consumer trust during an already unpredictable booking season”.
“It is time the Government implemented a consistent and transparent travel policy, rather than the current rollercoaster ride of changes, which is condemning international travel to the status of second-class citizen.”
Henry Smith MP, the Tory chairman of the all party Future of Aviation Group, told The Telegraph: “I am deeply concerned that this on again, off again uncertainty is making it very difficult for the aviation and travel sectors to plan any meaningful recovery.
“This won’t only result in lost holidays, it will also mean job losses in the industry as the country moves into the autumn and winter.
The decision to move the Balearics back to amber appears to be due to infection rates surging in recent weeks to their highest level since January.
The seven-day average case rate in the Balearics currently stands at 402 per 100,000, higher than the UK’s own case rate of 319.5, which has prompted fears of imported infections.