Portugal has been praised for its rapid response to the coronavirus outbreak. The country announced lockdown measures on March 13 when it had recorded just 122 cases of Covid-19 and no deaths as a result of the virus.
On May 3, the nation lifted its state of emergency and on May 4 it began to ease its lockdown measures as part of a three-stage scheme which, if cases continue to drop, will continue into June. As of May 7, the country had seen 26,715 cases of the virus and 1,105 deaths.
Portugal’s tourism industry is taking steps towards welcoming back visitors, beginning in the Algarve. The region’s tourism board is launching a good practice manual called “Algarve clean and safe”. This will include guidelines for tourism businesses to improve their health and safety standards and keep their premises Covid-free. Companies can also apply for a “clean and safe” stamp.
To be granted this seal, which will be valid for one year, a business must implement recommendations set out by the General Directorate of Health of Portugal.
President of the Algarve Tourism Board, João Fernandes, said: “We are making a great effort to implement action protocols that guarantee safety in the destination and allow recovery of the tourist sector.”
Telegraph Travel’s Portugal expert Mary Lussiana, a resident of the country, said: “Hotels are expected to open in June or July and many are currently working on standard operating procedures to ensure that they will be well prepared.”
She added: “Tourism in Portugal will, this year, be heavily reliant on the national market, boding well for the Algarve, which has always traditionally been the playground of Lisbon and the north.
“But Portugal is hoping to welcome the British, too, who have long been one of their most important markets and by the time the British are ready to travel, Portugal should be well prepared to welcome them not with a kiss or a handshake maybe, but certainly open arms.”
The Portuguese tourism board reiterated this sentiment. Luis Araújo, president of Turismo de Portugal, told Telegraph Travel that Portugal’s government had minimized the damage caused by the pandemic.
“Through their swift and precise action, coupled with the constant communication, collaboration and coordinated responses alongside the tourism sector, we are now in a place where we can begin implementing measures and rules to allow a gradual return to normality in the near future,” he said. “Though we cannot put an exact date on a return for the UK public, owing to external regulations still to be resolved, we are very confident that the urgent measures implemented within the tourism sector will see visitors from the UK fully confident to return.”
According to Reuters, Vila Gale, Portugal’s second-largest hotel chain, is “stocking up on sanitizers, gloves, masks and thermometers, re-arranging dining tables to keep guests at least 1.5 meters apart, and drawing up a la carte menus to replace buffets” ahead of a possible June reopening. “We have to endure the situation and get some revenue this summer,” said executive board member Goncalo Rebelo de Almeida. “I hope… that will at least allow us to pay fixed costs. And then we will bet on it returning to normal in 2021.”
Madeira and the Azores are imposing additional measures on overseas visitors, including a mandatory quarantine of 14 days. Only 100 passengers are allowed to arrive at Madeira airport each week.
However, the Madeira Promotion Bureau (MPB; a tourism association founded by the Regional Tourism Board and the Funchal Chamber of Commerce and Industry) is working towards a certification for good practice that will allow it to promote Madeira as a “Covid-safe” destination.
Eduardo Jesus, regional secretary for tourism and culture and president of the board at MPB, said: “The top priority is to overcome the fear of travelling and regain the traveller’s confidence. The implementation of these measures will provide comfort to those who travel.”
As of May 5, there were 86 confirmed cases of the virus among Madeira’s 289,000 population. Of those cases, 48 people had recovered and no deaths had been recorded. It had seen 10 consecutive days with no new cases of the virus.
How is Portugal relaxing its lockdown?
The country began a three-stage plan to lift lockdown on May 4. Different sectors of its economy are opening up every 15 days. Small shops, hairdressers, beauty salons, car dealerships and book shops were allowed to open first. Individual sports, such as tennis, golf and surfing were also allowed to resume.
From May 18, larger stores, restaurants, museums and coffee shops will be allowed to reopen under capacity restrictions. Childcare centres and preschools will open up and some high school students will return to lessons.
By June, some workers may be permitted to return to offices. Meanwhile, shopping centres, cinemas and theatres will reopen under this third stage of the plan.
No detail has been provided on the opening of hotels. Campsites and motorhome parks remain closed. Cruise ships are allowed to berth on mainland Portugal, but only Portuguese nationals or residents can disembark.
Will there be social distancing measures?
Yes. Businesses are only being permitted to reopen on the understanding that they will have measures in place that allow social distancing to continue. When cafes, restaurants and bakeries are permitted to open (from May 18) they will only be able to do so with 50 per cent capacity. While beaches have reopened for water sports and exercise, visitors cannot sunbathe or sit on the beach.
People are also required to wear masks at all times in public spaces, including on public transport, and gatherings are limited to 10 people.
Am I allowed to travel to Portugal?
No, a number of barriers will need to be lifted before UK travellers can return. Firstly, the Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel will need to change. Secondly, Portugal will need to open doors to foreigners. Airlines will also need to resume services; only a handful are running due to low demand.
Are flights still operating?
Only limited services are running. Wizz Air has said it will restart holiday flights from London Luton to Portugal in mid-June with onboard restrictions including compulsory face masks for passengers and crew and gloves for staff. It is uncertain whether Foreign Office advice againt all but essential travel will have altered by June. Travelling abroad against government advice is likely to nullify your insurance policy.
What is the Foreign Office Advice?
“Portugal declared a state of emergency on March 18. This activated a series of measures including significant restrictions on movement throughout the country. On April 30, the Portuguese government announced the transition to a state of public calamity and the implementation of a three-stage de-escalation plan to gradually ease current confinement and mobility measures.
“Starting on May 4, each stage of the plan will last 2 weeks. Progression through the stages will depend on the continued control of the Covid-19 outbreak in Portugal.”
“If you’re planning to travel to Portugal, you should consult your airline or tour operator. You will be subject to health screening on arrival and referred to the health authorities if you show signs of being unwell.”