Coronavirus: Portugal return to quarantine list would cause ‘chaos’

UK
Camilo Beach, Lagos, Portugal Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In a normal year, more than a million UK tourists visit Portugal’s Algarve coast

Holidaymakers will face “chaos and hardship” if coronavirus quarantine measures are reintroduced for those arriving in the UK from Portugal, a travel industry leader has warned.

Portugal has recorded 21.1 virus cases per 100,000 people in the past week.

The UK considers imposing 14 days of isolation on travellers when a country’s infection rate exceeds 20 cases per 100,000, over seven days.

The boss of British Airways’ parent firm said the numbers were “arbitrary”.

Less than two weeks ago, the popular holiday destination was added to the list of countries exempt from UK rules requiring travellers to quarantine.

This prompted a rise in internet searches for last-minute flights by British holidaymakers.

But now the UK government is likely to be considering imposing quarantine rules again as case numbers in Portugal rise.

There were 21.1 cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to 30 August, up from 19.4 in the seven days to 29 August.

Writing in the Times, IAG chief executive Willie Walsh said the “ever-changing” quarantine requirements meant “the UK has officially hung up the ‘closed’ sign”.

“Another U-turn by the government, adding Portugal to the quarantine list, will cause further chaos and hardship for travellers,” he said.

“The government is using arbitrary statistics to effectively ban 160 countries and in the process destroying the economy.”

So-called travel corridors – which allow people to travel without having to self-isolate on their return – have been scrapped between England and at least 18 countries and territories over the past month.

Ministers have said this cautious approach prevents coronavirus cases being imported.

‘A mad stampede’

Image copyright Neil Millington

Neil Millington, who is on holiday in Madeira with his girlfriend Vitalija Mockeviciute, believes it would be ridiculous to put the Portuguese island on the quarantine list.

“There are an awful lot of English people here,” said the 51-year-old, who works in the hotel industry.

“There will be a mad stampede to get a flight back.”

They are due back from Madeira on Monday so it is likely they will have to quarantine if they stay until then. Currently they are weighing up the option of coming back early.

Every visitor to the island is tested for the virus before or on arrival, and must isolate until the results come back. Mr Millington and Ms Mockeviciute got theirs back within 12 hours.

“It is a fantastic system they have here for Covid testing,” he said, pointing to the island case numbers of 157 in total.

Last week, Switzerland, Jamaica and the Czech Republic joined France, Spain and a number of others on the UK’s quarantine list.

UK tourists have spent thousands of pounds on new flights and ferries, and endured long drives in a race to get home before quarantine measures kick in.

The government has not commented on whether requirements for arrivals from Portugal will change again.

Every year, more than two million Britons visit Portugal, making up the largest number of overseas tourists to the country.

Most head to the Algarve in the south, drawn by sunny Atlantic beaches, picturesque fishing villages and golf courses.

Over May and June, the Portuguese government reopened its restaurants, coffee shops, museums and beaches. Hotels have mainly reopened, but nightclubs remain closed.

The government has warned that stricter measures will be put in place in mid-September as pupils return to school and some workers return to offices.

As of 31 August, the UK recorded 24 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past fortnight while Portugal recorded 35.7, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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