“Worst week in terms of cases” sees Portugal in desperate diplomatic battle over British tourists

Last week was without doubt the worst in terms of new cases of Covid-19 in Portugal since before the country went into lockdown.

But Expresso has been quick to explain this does not mean the country is ‘unsafe’ for visiting tourists.

And as desperate diplomatic efforts go on behind the scenes to secure the so-called ‘air bridge’ with UK (giving Brits the ability to come here for their holidays and return home without the need for 14 days quarantine), interior minister Eduardo Cabrita has been crystal clear – Britons will be safer in Portugal than they could possibly be in UK.

“Portugal has better public health indicators and better pandemic response indicators than the United Kingdom,” he told reporters over the weekend.

“So there’s no reason, according to all the comparative criteria, for the existence of any application of quarantine rules on return to the United Kingdom.”

But the issue is that for the purposes of infections per 100,000 people, Portugal is not ‘satisfying’ the British concept of what is safe.

The fact that the 457 new infections logged from Saturday to Sunday were almost exclusive to the Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo region that is the subject of tough new confinement measures has not been fully appreciated by decision-makers.

Accepts the Telegraph today (Monday): “The Algarve, the third most popular destination in Europe for UK holidaymakers, has a small fraction of the cases. Southern Portugal has recorded just 612 cases since the start of the pandemic, and only 91 in the past week. No Covid-19 patients have died there for nearly two months…”

Thus the tireless efforts are underway to ensure that Portugal is included within Britain’s list of air-bridges, even if only for the Algarve, Alentejo and autonomous regions of Madeira and Azores (where infection rates are also negligible).

As we reported last week, there are even calls for the whole air-bridge plan to be scrapped, on the basis that there is nothing to control holidaymakers who fly to a ‘safe’ destination (like Spain – where the virus has killed immeasurably more people than in Portugal) and then hiring cars and driving over the border.

Francisco Calheiro, president of the Portuguese Tourism Confederation, is one of the many figures on the frontline fighting Portugal’s corner.

He has told the Telegraph that he “could not believe” reports that Portugal faced being excluded from Britain’s air-bridges, or ‘travel corridors’ as they are being described here.

“Algarve and Madeira are two places that Covid-19 is with a low expression”, he stressed – adding that he came away from meetings with the British Ambassador to Portugal at the end of last week “feeling positive”.

For now, it remains a question of waiting.

Initially, Britain’s announcement on air bridges was expected to be given today. Now it looks more likely to come on Wednesday (update: this has now been officially push forwards to ‘the end of the week’). The understanding is that air-bridges would then by in place from July 6.

In the interim, efforts to change perceptions of the Portuguese situation will be continuing apace.

As Expresso insists, not only are infections concentrated within one particular region (Greater Lisbon, especially the ‘poorer districts’), they are prevalent in the younger age groups which are not going on to manifest ‘serious symptoms’ or indeed any apparent consequences at all.

The paper adds that if one ‘analyses the evolution of the virus in percentage terms’ one can see that the situation is ‘stable’ – with numbers increasing day-to-day by between 0.8% to a maximum of 1.1%.

Back to Francisco Calheiro, he told the Telegraph – citing the work done, again ‘behind the scenes’, to secure the final of the Champions League in Lisbon in August – that if Portugal is excluded from the air-bridge listing, it can only be down to ‘politics and lobbying’.

“If the British are forbidden to come to Portugal, someone is going to profit,” he said. “If you are a typical English family with two kids who wants to come to a beach, have a summer vacation, If you are not going to Portugal, you have another alternative and that alternative will profit with them. Yes, I believe there are some politics (involved). Of course there are.”

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com