Expatica news

Portugal risks returning to UK’s quarantine list as Covid cases pass threshold

109case thresholdAs coronavirus cases in Portugal go up and down, fears are growing that Britain will reimpose a quarantine for people travelling home from the country. It has been less than two weeks since Britain, Portugal’s leading source of tourism, lifted a 14-day self-isolation rule for travellers arriving from Portugal.

The number of passengers arriving from Britain has grown by a whopping 190% since Portugal was removed from Britain’s quarantine list, and the announcement last month was a relief for the tourism sector, which struggled as restrictions kept visitors away over the summer.

But a steady count of several hundred new cases per day over the last week, mainly in Northern and Cental Portugal, has raised fears Britain would put Portugal back on the list.

Last Thursday, health authorities reported 401 new infections, the highest since early July. Cases have since dropped, with 231 thisTuesday, bringing the total to 58,243.

British ambassador Chris Sainty said on Monday the embassy has been working closely with Portuguese authorities to understand the situation but “things can change quickly”.

“As cases rise across Europe, quarantine has been reintroduced for many countries, in line with UK’s overriding goal to protect public health,” he tweeted.

“If the news is confirmed it would have a huge impact on the number of tourists,” said Eliderico Viegas, president of Algarve’s AHETA hotel association. “I’m worried.”

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

That is over the threshold seven-day rate of 20 per 100,000, above which the UK government considers triggering quarantine conditions requiring those returning to self-isolate for 14 days.

A decision is not expected until this Thursday at the earliest and exceeding the figure does not automatically trigger the imposition of quarantine restrictions.

The boss of British Airways’ parent company warned the move would cause further misery for holidaymakers. Writing in The Times, Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, said: “Another U-turn by the government, adding Portugal to the quarantine list, will cause further chaos and hardship for travellers.”

He said the “ever-shifting list” of countries requiring quarantine means “the UK has officially hung up the ‘Closed’ sign”, accusing the government of “using arbitrary statistics to effectively ban 160 countries and in the process destroying the economy’”.

A source at the UK’S Department for Transport said: “Decisions around which countries are added or removed to the list are based on the joint biosecurity centre coronavirus risk assessment, which is informed by a number of factors, including the continued increase of coronavirus within a country and the numbers of new cases and potential trajectory of the disease in the coming weeks.”

The travel corridor list is reviewed each Thursday, ahead of the weekend when the revised conditions come into force. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland usually follow the UK government’s lead, with some recent exceptions.

Last year, UK travellers made more than 2.5m visits to Portugal. Searches for flights to Portugal soared after the country was removed from the UK’s quarantine list just over a week ago.

Paul Charles, a spokesman for the Quash Quarantine group, pointed out that many English and Welsh holidaymakers would be heading home this week anyway because of the start of the school term.

Passengers arriving in the UK from Portugal no longer had to self-isolate from 4am on Saturday 22 August after an approved travel corridor was confirmed.

Google search data showed a significant rise in searches for the term “flights to Portugal” by users in the UK at around 6pm on Thursday 20 August, the day the news about the quarantine change was announced.

Portugal was initially excluded from England’s quarantine-free list when the full list of air bridge destinations was announced in July. The UK government’s decision not to include Portugal on that list was thought to be linked to a rise in coronavirus cases in the capital of Lisbon.