British Tourists Rush to Return From Portugal as Deadline Looms

British tourists scrambled to leave Portugal over the weekend in order to beat a Tuesday deadline for a new quarantine imposed by the British government on those returning from Portugal over concerns about a dangerous virus variant.

Britain had recently put Portugal, one of the most popular destinations for British tourists, and 12 other countries and territories with low coronavirus caseloads on a “green list,” allowing visitors coming from Britain to avoid a quarantine period upon returning from those locations.

Britons fatigued by a miserable winter and a four-month national lockdown had just begun flocking to Portugal, because most of the other green-listed places were either not accepting tourists or were not already favored destinations. The process still involved several forms and P.C.R. virus tests, whose costs can total hundreds of dollars.

The decision Thursday to reintroduce restrictions was heavily criticized by British travel operators and opposition politicians. But the government defended the move as a health-safety requirement to help Britain fight a new coronavirus variant that was first detected in India, known now as the Delta variant.

Dr. Chiu, who was the first scientist to discover the variant in California now known as Epsilon, said the key question facing scientists about the Delta variant is how much of a threat it poses to people who are unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated.

This is particularly relevant in Britain, where health officials opted early on to vaccinate as many people as possible by administering only the first dose of a two-dose vaccine. About 60 percent of Britons have received at least one dose, but only 40 percent are fully vaccinated.

“Unfortunately that is the kind of situation where you worry about surges or outbreaks,” Dr. Chiu said.

As the Delta variant spreads across Europe, and as new variants emerge, Dr. Chiu said he expects to continue to see new restrictions and lockdowns as public health authorities respond to emerging threats. “It really points to the importance of getting as many people as possible — globally — vaccinated,” he said.

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