LISBON, Portugal (AP) — British vacationers began arriving in large numbers in southern Portugal on Monday for the first time in more than a year, after governments in the two countries eased their COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.
A plane from Manchester, England, disgorged the first of more than 5,000 tourists expected to arrive on 17 U.K. flights in Portugal’s southern Algarve region on the first day nonessential travel was allowed.
As local temperatures climbed toward a forecast high of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit), the tourists were met at Faro airport by workers handing out COVID-19 welcome kits containing masks and disinfectant, and by the head of the Algarve tourist authority.
The arrivals brightened the outlook for Portugal’s crucial tourism sector, especially the sun and surf resorts along the Algarve coast which relies heavily on the U.K. market and where hotels shut down for most of the past year.
Arriving tourists needed to show a negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken within the previous 72 hours.
Both Portugal and the United Kingdom have reduced their seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people to between 3 and 4. Authorities said that rate was low enough to relax restrictions.
The Portuguese government on Saturday announced that people from European countries with COVID-19 incidence rates below 500 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days can now also make nonessential trips to Portugal. That means most Europeans can travel to Portugal, as long as they can show a negative test.
The U.K. government has put Portugal and 11 other countries on a so-called Green List of low-risk territories. British people returning home from those areas do no need to go into quarantine.
The Associated Press