Travel firms say the limited expansion of the green list for holiday destinations has sparked a wave of new bookings, despite renewed industry criticism of the government’s handling of coronavirus restrictions.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of “sowing confusion” as he told Sky News there was no science-led approach to COVID-19 travel rules that have crippled the industry.

He hit out at the creation of a green watchlist – designed to give notice of a possible threat to unrestricted breaks at a particular destination – saying of the traffic light adjustment: “whatever the hell that means”.

Spain’s Balearic islands and Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, are on the UK government green list.

Mr O’Leary also criticised Germany’s Angela Merkel for what he said was a “somewhat stupid idea” that people arriving in the EU from the UK should go into quarantine over Delta variant fears.

“The UK is the most vaccinated country in Europe,” he said, adding there was “far too much of this variant scariant”.

The airline boss confirmed the UK government’s process for deciding holiday barriers would continue to be the subject of a legal challenge, despite plans to open up more holiday hotspots to the double-vaccinated.

Operators reported a mixed early customer response to the updated green list – due to take effect from Wednesday – with the wider industry grumbling that restrictions remained too harsh.

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O’Leary: Holiday travel lists ‘confusing’

However, chief executive of Hays Travel, Dame Irene Hays, told Sky’s Ian King Live she was “encouraged” by the limited reopening and they had already taken a number of bookings on Friday including a “few” for the Caribbean.

Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French, who was also on the programme, said it had seen a “huge” lift in inquiries and bookings.

Both said it was understandable that people remained cautious given the signal from the authorities that rules can change at any time.

Consumer groups urged those booking breaks abroad to ensure they had appropriate travel insurance rather than basic cover.

Rory Boland, the editor of Which? Travel, said: “Restrictions around international travel are changing regularly and when they do, the cost to holidaymakers is significant.

“Most providers will not pay refunds if a country is moved from green to amber, and ‘free’ amendments are often anything but, with many companies requiring significant notice of any changes and bookings for new dates usually costing hundreds of pounds.

“Travel insurance is also unlikely to pay out in these circumstances.

“It is only advisable to book if you are able to do 14 days’ quarantine, can be flexible about destination and dates, and book with a provider that guarantees refunds in the event of traffic light changes or quarantine requirements.”