Portugal’s airports remain open to Brits in spite of ‘potentially rampaging’ virus variant

The Portuguese government has ‘no intention of following the example of other European countries’ which have today suspended all flight connections with the UK due to the discovery of a ‘much more contagious’ variant of the new coronavirus (see update below).

Writes Público, in contrast to Holland, Belgium and Italy which have started slamming the doors shut on Brits, Portugal remains open to holiday flights in and out of the country – “at least for now”.

With another variant of the virus also discovered in South Africa – and epidemiological situations in many countries becoming vastly more complicated, Portugal’s ministry for foreign affairs has said the government is watching developments in the United Kingdom closely, but would prefer that any measures taken were ‘universal’.

As Público recalls, Portugal “was one of the countries that strongly criticised the unilateral decisions of various member states of the EU to close frontiers during the first wave of the pandemic”.

But the reality is that while millions of Brits are being forbidden by law to travel out of their boroughs of residence in the UK, flights to and from Great Britain are still running – potentially facilitating the circulation of people who may be unaware they are carrying the virus – and could even be infectious with the new variant.

Virologists speaking on English radio today stress that just because no other European countries have flagged the new variant doesn’t mean it hasn’t already spread outside British territory.

Spain – also open to flights and often used by Brits visiting certain parts of Portugal  – has already called on the European Commission and the Council of Europe to come up with a ‘community approach’ to this latest scenario.

The ‘panic’ began yesterday (Saturday) when seemingly out of the blue British prime minister Boris Johnson ‘cancelled Christmas’.

In spite of his advice to citizens in London and the south east with holiday plans to ‘unpack your bags’, thousands made straight for railways stations and motorways in a veritable stampede of humanity out of what has become ‘tier 4’ – a new form of British lockdown.

Picking up on the possibilities of what could start happening, Holland cancelled all flight connections from the UK today until New Year’s Day; Belgium has cancelled air and rail connections (via Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel) from midnight tonight and is liaising with French road traffic authorities; Italy, Germany and Austria are all thought to be following suit (see update below).

Meantime in Portugal, the national situation has been thrown into a new level of pressure. Ricardo Mexia, president of the association of Public Health Doctors, has even suggested live on air that the new variant “could compromise the efficacy of the vaccine”. This is something British expert Chris Whitty admitted some days ago – stressing nonetheless that he felt it was highly unlikely.

INSA, Portugal’s national health institute, has guaranteed today that it has been studying the genetic variability of SARS-CoV-2 since April, and hasn’t yet seen one instance of the new variant in Portugal.

All this comes as daily Covid figures have at last been showing some positive aspects: numbers in hospital have been ‘reducing’, numbers of new cases also are slowly coming down – but deaths are still ‘high’, and the number of active cases hovers around the 70,000-mark.

For the up-to-date picture (click here).

Portugal itself is set for a Christmas reprieve starting on December 23, allowing free movement of citizens until Boxing Day at 11pm. But after that, New Year is going to be hugely compromised, with everyone ‘off the streets’ by 11pm on December 31, and then under a 1pm curfew for New Year’s Day, January 2 and January 3 (click here).

UPDATE 5.30pm:

Bulgaria has joined the list of countries refusing flight connections to or from UK from midnight tonight (Sunday), as have Italy, Germany, Austria, France, Ireland, Israel, Sweden, El Salvador and Kuwait. The European Council is said to be meeting later this evening to discuss a ‘European response’. Says Sky News, the whole of Europe could be refusing entry to citizens from Britain from tomorrow.

In the case of France, the ban includes ‘all transport’ – meaning freight: that is, “lorries carrying produce”.

UPDATE 8.10pm:

Portugal restricts flights from UK to nationals and ‘legal residents’

[email protected]