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Portugal opens door to British tourists, ending uncertainty

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — British tourists can return to Portugal from next Monday, ending days of uncertainty over whether thousands of U.K. vacation bookings for Portuguese destinations would be allowed.

British visitors will be admitted on nonessential travel from May 17, the Portuguese foreign ministry said in a statement Friday. British travelers will need to show on arrival a negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken in the previous 72 hours.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic British people can currently only go to Portugal — and into the rest of the European Union — for work, study, family reunions, health or humanitarian reasons.

Next Monday is also the day the U.K. government will permit British tourists to travel to a limited number of countries, including Portugal, without having to quarantine on their return.

The U.K. decision on May 7 to ease travel bans and include Portugal on its so-called green list, with 11 other low-risk territories countries, sparked a deluge of flight and hotel bookings, especially on Portugal’s southern Algarve coast, which is one of Europe’s most popular vacation destinations.

Tourism, by mainly British tourists, is a mainstay of the southern European country’s economy. It accounts for around 15% of annual gross domestic product.

The Portuguese government’s delay in announcing its decision on U.K. tourists came four months after Lisbon officials labelled as “absurd” a British decision to halt flights to and from Portugal. The British government said the measures was needed to prevent a COVID-19 variant found in Brazil, with which Portugal has close ties, from reaching the U.K.

It wasn’t clear whether the U.K. government consulted Portugal before including it on the green list.

Elidérico Viegas, president of the AHETA association of hotels and resorts in the Algarve, told The Associated Press that the region has witnessed an “exponential increase” in bookings by British tourists since the green list came out.

“We knew (U.K. bookings) would increase, but not by this much,” he said, though he said there were no reliable figures yet.

Local businesses are “much more optimistic about the summer” after being closed for most of the past year, he said.

Restaurants and cafes recently reopened in Portugal, thought they must shut at 10:30 p.m.. Bars and night clubs remain closed.

The pandemic situation in the U.K. and Portugal is roughly similar, with a seven-day rolling average of 3.4 new cases per 100,000 people.

The Champions League soccer final between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester City is being held in Porto, a city in northern Portugal, on May 29 with 12,000 fans flying in for the game.


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Barry Hatton, The Associated Press