Portugal lifts its ban on flights from Britain tomorrow, but holidaymakers hoping for a trip to the Algarve will still have to wait until May 17, when the UK’s own restrictions are lifted.
Under Boris Johnson‘s roadmap out of lockdown, it is still illegal for Britons to travel abroad on holiday, but that measure could be lifted next month if the number of Covid cases and deaths continues to drop, as it has done consistently since the start of the year.
When international travel does resume, a ‘traffic light system’ will be used to determine where in the world is safest for tourists to jet off to.
Portugal, along with a number of other popular destinations, is expected to be among those on the ‘green’ list next month, where the level of risk is deemed to be low.
Despite the ban, however, British Airways is resuming flights from London to Faro as early as next Saturday, April 24.
It comes as Portugal’s tourism secretary said last night the country will do its best to avoid visitors having to quarantine on arrival, with much of the continent moving towards adopting Covid passports to try and kick-start the travel industry.
People enjoy the beach in Loule, Algarve last May, when lockdown restrictions were first lifted
A man sits on a bench at a quiet Faro marina last month amid the ongoing Covid lockdown
Under the plans, fully-vaccinated tourists can enter countries without any restrictions, but those who haven’t had both jabs will need a negative test before arriving, and may face other curbs.
Rita Marques told an online conference the country would try ‘at all costs to avoid quarantines and additional Covid-19 tests’ if the travel pass plan goes ahead.
Tourism-dependent Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency and is responsible for negotiating the new pass with member states.
It would allow a freeing up of international travel, despite the bloc’s sluggish vaccination campaign and the risks posed by new coronavirus variants.
Marques said that, while this summer would not be ‘completely normal,’ Portugal would ‘certainly bet on maintaining the basic principles of free movement of people and goods.’
The country’s once-booming tourism sector suffered its worst year since the mid-1980s in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns worldwide grounded flights and kept visitors away.
Meanwhile, Brexit is seen by Portuguese hotels as another tough obstacle as Britain is one of the country’s main markets.
‘Portugal is still identifying many issues that need special care due to Brexit but the Portugal brand is strong, particularly among the British,’ Marques said. ‘The UK will remain…the leading outbound country.’
Between the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and February this year, Portuguese hotel revenues fell 74% to 1.1 billion euros as numbers of domestic and foreign tourists slumped 71%, according to official data.
It comes as travel bosses yesterday slammed the Government’s approach to resuming international flights as they claimed it is ‘too cautious’ and warned many holiday firms are ‘teetering on the brink’.
Senior industry figures told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that the proposed traffic light system is ‘too complex’ while the overall strategy set out by ministers is ‘very vague in many areas’.
They also warned border control at airports is already ‘unable to cope’ with Covid checks despite passenger numbers being massively reduced due to the lockdown ban on non-essential international travel.
It was said there will need to be a ‘dramatic improvement in border performance if we are to increase passenger numbers’ when flights do resume.
Despite the criticism of the Government’s approach, airline bosses have delivered a boost to millions of Brits hoping for a summer break abroad as they said most of Europe and the US could be on the ‘green list’.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said he expects ‘most European countries’ to be included in the Government’s quarantine-free category when international travel returns from May 17.
Asked if he expects destinations such as France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey to be on the Government ‘green list’, Mr Lundgren replied: ‘Yes, by the time we open up for travel on May 17 and if the Government continues to have the plan in place on the two-test system.’
Meanwhile, British Airways boss Sean Doyle said the continued success of the vaccine rollout in the UK and the US could allow for a transatlantic travel corridor to be put in place.
Last month, experts said London and Washington were already discussing piloting a bilateral safe travel scheme between the two countries.
Mr Doyle, who was speaking at an online industry event, also said the firm would be offering £60 PCR tests to its customers amid concerns the bill charged by some testing firms of approximately £120 could price many families out of a trip abroad.
His comments reflect the announcement made by testing firm Randox who said earlier this week it would be offering £60 tests through partnering airlines in a bid to aid the sector’s recovery.
The Government has yet to say which countries will make it onto the ‘green list’ for low risk travel but the Department for Transport has pledged to categorise countries ‘in early May’.
Assessments will be based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.