Prime minister António Costa has addressed the implications of the decision by the British government to remove Portugal from its ‘green list’ for quarantine free travel, saying he hoped the executive is aware of the “serious damage” it has inflicted on its citizens.
On an official visit to Madeira, Lusa reports that Mr Costa ‘admitted’ that British ministers are “less aware” of the harm the decision has caused the Portuguese economy, but he hoped they understood “the serious damages caused to the freedom of their countrymen and women’s freedom to circulate”.
At a time when Europe is opening up with the support of vaccination programmes and PCR testing, the UK has effectively banned its citizens from visiting any European destination – and on grounds that no-one outside of the British government seems able to understand.
Mr Costa reiterated the narrative coming out of Portugal since Thursday, that “the measure (taken by the UK) is not in any way justified” but he also sought to distance Portugal a little from the extraordinarily close ‘relationship’ (particularly with regards to tourism) that the two countries have enjoyed for so many years.
Speaking only hours ahead of British health minister Matt Hancock revealing that Boris Johnson’s government may well NOT open up the country on the ‘magic’ day of June 21 as previously suggested, Mr Costa said Portugal has to stop ‘relying’ on its British tourist market.
“This crisis has demonstrated the fragility of some of the most robust, most promising economic sectors that were areas of natural specialisation in many regions. This is the case of tourism”, he said. “This shows us, more and more for the future that we cannot depend so much and solely on one economic sector. We have to have the capacity to develop, to bring other economic sectors forwards, because new crises will come, and we cannot be so fragilised in the face of these crises as we have been this time”.
It doesn’t mean, of course, that Portugal will ease away from its focus on the British market, but it has to “find new markets, beyond those that are traditional.
“It’s time for us not to be dependent on one sole market, as that dependency is a fragility”, he stressed.
As the PM gave his overview of the crisis that has been filling column inches and television reports since last Thursday, scenes at Faro airport of long queues of Britons cutting holidays short in order to return to UK before ‘quarantine kicks in’ at 4am on Tuesday have been hugely distressing for Algarve tourism businesses that were hoping so fervently for a positive start to the summer.
Tabloid Correio da Manhã claims the ‘wave of cancellations’ that have followed the British decision has seen businesses ‘cut back’ on plans to hire new staff.
Ricardo Mariano, CEO of temping agency Timing, said at least 100 people due to start new postings in the Algarve next week have now been told they will not be required.
It could be that the jobs come back on track in three weeks time, he said – on the basis that the British decision may be overturned at the next review. But considering talk coming out of Britain today centres on “other options” being drawn up “before a decision is made on June 21”, it is very clear that Portugal should not be pinning its hopes on the next British review.
The UK’s reticence to allow its citizens to come and go as they please centres on the increasing spread of the Indian (now renamed Delta) variant which may be powering an increasing in hospitalisations. The plan is to “watch the data for another week”, said Mr Hancock today.
Whereas Portugal registered 612 new cases today, the United Kingdom has declared 5,341.