In light of the news breaking on 3rd July 2020, in which Portugal was omitted from a list of confirmed global destinations participating in an ‘air bridge’ agreement between the UK government, an official statement has been issued by Mr. Luis Araújo, President of Turismo de Portugal.
He said: “We are extremely disappointed to hear that the UK government has made the decision to omit Portugal from the air bridge agreement. The reality in Portugal is totally different from the one portrayed by this decision. We fully maintain and stress unwavering confidence in the safety of the nation to welcome back international visitors. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Portuguese government and tourism industry has worked tirelessly to implement a carefully strategised and thoroughly actioned protocol for the tourism industry and wider society. From our viewpoint, the entire national territory should have been appropriately included in the UK travel corridor owing to the successful containment of the outbreak.
“We recall widespread praise from across Europe as recently as May for the handling of the pandemic in Portugal, in which time the situation has only improved. As of 1st July, the majority of the country took a positive step reducing to the minimum level of public restrictions, thus mirroring the improved situation. Since the beginning of May, the number of hospitalisations in Intensive Care Units has halved, overall hospitalisation is down 60%, deaths down 70%, and active cases at just 13,060 for the entire nation.
“Safety measures and adequate control saw Portugal become the first European destination to receive the ‘Travel Safe’ stamp by the World Travel & Tourism Council. Our Clean & Safe hygiene protocol has been decisive in accounting for more than 18,000 voluntary memberships from various establishments in the sector and more than 20,000 staff across the hospitality sector trained to meet professional devised practices. We wish to place on record that Portugal is the 6th highest country in Europe for the number of people tested and traced for COVID-19. Having already completed more than 1.1 million tests, which account for more than 10% of the population, the virus has been controlled in a safe manner. Naturally, logic would suggest that if other nations followed such a measure, statistics may have been reflected differently.
“In addition to the “Best Destination in the World” accolade for three consecutive years (World Travel Awards 2017, 2018 and 2019), Portugal is also the 3rd safest country in the world (Global Peace Index 2020). It has even recently been chosen to host the final phase of the Champions League, which denotes international confidence in the country. All of these arguments justify the frustration with which we received the decision from the United Kingdom because we believe that the decision could and should have been different, especially given the improvement in the pandemic control indicators that Portugal is experiencing.
“It’s important to understand that the Portuguese tourism industry has been in operation for several weeks now, welcoming guests from around the world – entirely safely. British citizens are still able to visit Portugal. Madeira hasn’t recorded a single death since the beginning of the pandemic and has not seen an active case reported since 21st June. The Azores Islands represents just 0.4% of Portuguese cases since the beginning of the pandemic and has only three cases in total. Both the Madeira and Azores Islands are 100% ready to welcome British guests and have almost no risk of infection – yet remain on the list of destinations requiring quarantine upon return, when destinations proven to have higher infection rates are included.
“Despite this, the FCO have removed Madeira and the Azores Islands from a list of countries and territories for which advice against ‘all but essential’ international travel is issued. We have to remain completely honest when voicing our bewilderment at such a decision and confusing message.
“The minimal impact can also be referred to when discussing the Algarve (1.5% of Portuguese cases since the beginning of the pandemic) and Alentejo (1.1% of Portuguese cases since beginning of the pandemic). Lisbon was the European city with the most flight bookings during the first half of June, according to a study released on 29th June by Forward Keys.
“The British public, who have been our primary source of inbound visitors for many regions in Portugal, have celebrated our culture, traditions, landmarks, and history for decades, by our side.
“We will continue to implement strict safety protocol with the cross-sector cooperation of multiple establishments. We can only reiterate our full commitment to welcome all British tourists who choose to have their vacations in our country by providing them with safety, warmth, and the kindness of the people of Portugal.”
Since the beginning of May, when the first phase of reintegration began, the country has seen considerable improvements regarding:
- Number of hospitalisations: Minus 50% (there were 968 and now 436)
- Hospitalisations in Intensive Care Units (ICU): Minus 70% (172 versus 67 for a capacity of more than 700 ICU beds throughout the territory);
- Number of deaths: Minus 70% (from an average of 15-20 daily to about a third of that value on the present day; 3.57 if considering the average of the last 7 days);
- Number of active cases: Minus 50% (at the beginning of the reintegration plan, there were 24,065 active cases compared to 12,484 today which represents almost half).
- This positive evolution allows most of the country to leave the State of Calamity from July 1st onward.
Thanks to the control and increase of tests (Portugal is the 6th country in Europe in number of tests, having already completed more than 1.1 million, which accounts for more than 10% of the population) it was recently considered essential to apply some contingency rules to some areas on the outskirts of Lisbon – such as the closing of some commercial establishments at 8pm and the prohibition of gatherings with more than 10 people.
However, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, health services, gas stations and sports equipment maintain normal opening hours. The same applies to all museums, cultural facilities, etc. There is also no limitation on the movement of residents or tourists and all transport is fully operational. There is no situation of closure or quarantine in Lisbon.
The application of these rules is part of the procedures that Portugal has taken since the beginning of the crisis, which has allowed for exemplary control over the progress of the pandemic and ha resulted in international praise. These measures also allow all tourist and cultural facilities to be open and functioning in full, ensuring the necessary security of those who wish to visit the Lisbon region.