Matt Hancock today dismissed desperate pleas for coronavirus testing at airports as he was warned that the government is overseeing the 'demise of UK aviation'.
The Health Secretary rejected the idea that screening arrivals at major hubs could help revive travel and remove the need for quarantine, insisting it would only catch 7 per cent of cases.
The comments came with Portugal on the brink of being added to the UK's 'red' list, leaving thousands of Britons facing a dash to beat the expected 4am Saturday deadline and avoid self-isolating for 14 days. A formal announcement is due tomorrow.
However, officials in England are still resisting calls to follow Wales and Scotland by putting restrictions on Greece.
Although the authorities in Athens declared another 233 cases in the past 24 hours, the seven-day rate per 100,000 of population has dipped to 13.8 - well below the government's trigger threshold of 20.
The rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 of population in Greece over the past seven days is just 14 - well short of the government's quarantine threshold of 20
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured on Sky News today) dismissed the idea that screening arrivals at major hubs could help revive travel and remove the need for quarantine, insisting it would only catch 7 per cent of cases
Derek Provan, chief executive of ASG Airports which runs Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports, said: 'The UK government is overseeing the demise of the aviation industry.
'We are seeing more job losses than we saw in the demise of the coal industry in the 1980s.
'That, surely, cannot be an accolade that any government would like to have.'
The chiefs of Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow Airport have called for 'leadership' on the testing issue, warning that huge numbers of job are on the line.
But pushed on the issue of testing on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Hancock said: 'There's a really good reason we don't do that.
'That is that the virus incubates in you and therefore if you test on day one on return, scientists reckon you find only about 7 per cent of the total cases.
'You still have to quarantine. It doesn't clinically work.'
He went on: 'In fact the countries around the world that have introduced these tests on arrival are now moving away from it and doing the testing much later.'
The rate of Covid cases in Portugal has been above 20 per 100,000 for the past three days - the level at which the government considers introducing a quarantine.
Yesterday the number of new cases rose to 390 from 231 the day before, suggesting the current seven-day average of 22.7 will not decrease.
Meanwhile, cases in Greece are currently at a similar level to the UK. Paul Charles, boss of travel consultancy PC Agency, said the 'stable' situation in the country suggested the Scottish government's decision to put it on the red list was 'extreme'.
He predicted Portugal would be added to the list but Greece and Italy would stay off it.
Any changes to quarantine arrangements are now announced on Thursday nights, with the new rules being imposed at 4am on Saturdays.
The previous two-week quarantine for travellers returning from Portugal was only lifted two weeks ago.
Pressure is now mounting on England to consider imposing quarantine rules on travellers arriving from Greece amid reports of people returning with coronavirus.
Rising Covid cases prompted the Scottish Government to announce travellers from Greece would have to self-isolate for 14 days from today, while Wales began asking arrivals from the island of Zante to enter quarantine.
The UK's biggest tour operator Tui has suspended its holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante.
But Greece has insisted it is doing 'everything in our power' to keep UK holidaymakers safe.
There were 14.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Greece in the seven days to September 1, up from 14.1 a week earlier. This is a similar rate to the UK and still below the quarantine threshold.
It comes as rising cases in Portugal were prompting many UK tourists to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home before Saturday.
In Buckinghamshire, two groups of people have tested positive for coronavirus after returning from abroad - including a group of teenagers from the Marlow area who are reported to have been on a trip to Zante.
Buckinghamshire Council said some of them were pupils at Sir William Borlase's Grammar School and all the affected households were self-isolating.
Tour operator Tui also said it was aware of a 'small number' of positive Covid-19 test results following a flight from Heraklion in Crete to London Stansted on August 27.
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One of Lisbon's main railway stations largely deserted yesterday as holidaymakers stayed away amid a rise in cases