The UK’s decision to downgrade Portugal to its amber foreign travel list forced around 25,000 Brits to leave the Algarve last weekend, most of them earlier than they had planned to beat the country’s new quarantine deadline.
Since Tuesday, passengers arriving in the UK from Portugal are required to take two Covid-19 tests, within two days of arrival and on the eighth day, and quarantine for 10 days; or they have the option to take another private test for release after the fifth day of quarantine. The decision is being widely criticised both in UK and Portugal.
Around 10,000 Brits are said to have departed the Algarve on Saturday, followed by another 15,000 on Sunday. Monday was a slower day at Faro Airport, but thousands of Brits were still desperately queuing for their return flight home. Perhaps the only silver lining was that 2,500 Brits arrived at Faro Airport on Saturday already knowing that they will have to self-quarantine when they return to the UK – at least that will be the case until the UK government’s next review, expected on Thursday, June 24.
The UK’s surprise announcement forced thousands Brits to change their plans and spend hundreds of euros more than they had expected to change flights and carry out last-minute Covid-19 tests in order to be allowed to fly back home in time.
“Chaos”, “confusion”, “disappointment” and “heartbreak” were felt by most holidaymakers who had long been planning their ‘Algarve holiday’, and now had just four days’ notice to leave Portugal if they were to avoid a 10-day quarantine.
The decision is being almost universally blasted. British holidaymakers are describing it as an “absolute joke”, hoteliers are dubbing it “incomprehensible”, and the Algarve’s tourism chief João Fernandes believes it was a “political decision” that was not based on Portugal’s actual Covid risk level.
“We didn’t want to go! We were supposed to be here until Thursday, but I’m a teacher and I cannot quarantine when I go back. I have to go back to work. It is just a nightmare,” one traveller departing Faro Airport on Sunday told RTP.
“I think the Portuguese people and the British people feel disgusted by the British government and the choices they’ve made. We can’t see any reason for it. Everything here is safe,” she added.
Hoteliers are fuming too. Raul Martins, president of Portugal’s Hoteliers Association (AHP), said this week that the British government’s decision is “terrible and incomprehensible”.
Stressing that the number of cases in Portugal is still relatively low despite slight increases, Martins said that the decision will “seriously hurt” the tourism sector.
“Brits are our main market and hotels in the Algarve and Madeira have started receiving a large number of cancellations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Algarve’s tourism boss has called on the British government to review its decision.
“We hope this measure will be reviewed as quickly as possible because it is completely unfair,” João Fernandes, president of the RTA (Algarve Tourism Board) said.
As he pointed out, the Algarve welcomed around 100,000 British passengers throughout the last two weeks. According to data from the regional health board (ARS Algarve), only six of them tested positive for Covid-19.
“Six cases per 100,000 inhabitants is a much lower number than what is registered in the UK,” he said, stressing that Brits must conduct a PCR test before even travelling to Portugal.
João Fernandes said now is the time “to look ahead” and focus on other markets that are showing interest in the Algarve, such as Germany, France, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands. And as Prime Minister António Costa also pointed out (click here), Portugal cannot depend solely on one market.
The Algarve Municipalities Association (AMAL) has also weighed in, condemning the UK’s decision and urging the Portuguese government to continue supporting the region’s struggling businesses which have “once again” been dealt a crippling blow.
Meanwhile, the British press has also been reporting on Portugal’s relegation to the amber list. BBC interviewed arriving Brits at Gatwick Airport at the start of the week, many of them describing the UK government’s decision as an “absolute joke”.
“To put it (Portugal) on the green list and then to take it off three weeks later is just kind of unbelievable,” one traveller told BBC.
“I was part of a big group that was there for a wedding … everyone’s found it quite difficult,” she said, adding that it had been stressful booking new flights with just a few days’ notice.
“It’s a massive inconvenience and obviously costs everyone a lot of money,” she said.
Reports BBC, the Cunningham family from Hampshire, who also arrived at Gatwick on Monday, said it was “100% ridiculous” to put Portugal on the amber list. They said the government was “getting people’s hopes up and dashing them down.
“Social distancing in Portugal is brilliant, everyone’s wearing masks, even on the beaches,” they said.
Even the UK’s Guardian newspaper has published an opinion article describing the government’s decision as “another example of Boris Johnson’s pandemic policymaking at its worst”.
“The UK government’s decision to move Portugal from the green to the amber foreign travel list is messy, dubious and disturbingly characteristic of Boris Johnson at his worst. Most immediately, in human terms, it is an instant inconvenience, including financially, to UK travellers to Portugal,” the publication wrote.
This week, the UK’s environment secretary George Eustice has even encouraged Britons to spend their holidays at home and not travel unless absolutely necessary.
The environment secretary encouraged Britons to visit the “great places” that exist in the UK instead and said people must be aware of the “risks” when travelling outside of the UK at present.
What he did not mention, however, were the many reports from British holidaymakers who said they felt “much safer” during their stay in Portugal than they did back home.
By MICHAEL BRUXO