British Ambassador takes to Twitter to defend UK’s trashing of Portugal as a ‘Covid-safe’ destination

In an extraordinary development, the British Ambassador to Portugal has taken to Twitter to refute the suggestion that there is a political reason for blanking this country as a safe holiday destination.

Chris Sainty – Britain’s top man in Lisbon since 2018 – was fending off a number of less than friendly replies on his Twitter feed. Indeed some were surprisingly aggressive.

He stressed in what became a series of tweets: “some people have speculated that there is a political motive behind these decisions. That is not the case”.

“The first duty of any government is to protect its population. These decisions are driven entirely by public health considerations, minimising the risk to travellers from the UK and the risk of importing new cases of Covid-19 into the UK”.

“Others have suggested that scientists from the PHE and JBC advising the Government were not using the right data. That is simply not true. They have all the relevant public source data for Portugal as well as extensive data and evidence provided by the Portuguese government”.

“They have considered many indicators in addition to the latest case numbers, eg regional data, testing data, testing strategy and the nature of recent Covid-19 outbreaks in Portugal. We have facilitated direct contact between experts from both countries to discuss all of this”.

And on he went with no less than nine separate tweets receiving all kinds of replies that ranged from the brief “We do not believe you!!!” (actually there were more exclamation marks) to the blunt: “Chris your tone is both patronising and sickening. The British public are not fools and you cannot con us with lies. I would like the Portuguese government to kick you back to the UK tonight and then you tell us how much safer you feel in Covid riddled Britain than Portugal”.

The truth is the sense of anger and disbelief that the UK could condemn a country that has been doing so incredibly well containing a pandemic (hospital figures are dropping all the time) has developed like a forest wildfire – particularly because the UK is meant to have a ‘soft spot’ for Portugal, its ‘oldest ally’ – and we only recently heard prime minister Boris Johnson publicly thank a Portuguese nurse for playing a vital role in Mr Johnson’s touch-and-go battle with Covid-19. 

Portugal’s Head of State Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa appears to have read the gathering storm –  if not the tweets – and mustered his skills of diplomacy to rein the tide of anger in.

“We have been, and we are, an example”, he said. “We don’t need lessons from anyone else to be an example. We don’t depend on the lists of others to be an example. We don’t retaliate against anyone to be an example. We don’t close the door on those that close the door on us because we know that this way we are setting an example”.

It wasn’t a tweet. Marcelo is possibly too busy to tweet. It was part of a speech he gave in Ovar yesterday as he awarded the town that went into a special form of lockdown early on in the pandemic with a ‘gold medal’ for everything it had done, and been through.

Praising the locals for being “courageous, determined, bold, resistant and supportive”, he said they were able to look to the future and have hope in it.

That advice is perhaps now relevant to the country as a whole – and the tourism sector in particular – which at least yesterday got the ‘good news’ that Formula 1 will be blasting onto the scene in October in the Algarve, and with luck bringing with it millions of euros in potential, desperately-needed, income.

As we wrote this text – and hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers in Spain were faced with the shock news that Spain’s travel corridor had been vaporised by their government in a matter of hours – Público wrote that the main concern in Europe right now are ‘virus spikes’ in Spain, France and … the United Kingdom.