London, (The Southern African Times) – Tired of mixed messages, British sunseekers in Portugal reacted with fury and disbelief to their government’s decision to reimpose a quarantine regime for travellers coming from the popular southern European destination.
Desperate to shake off pandemic blues, John Joyce, from Newcastle, and his family decided to book a holiday in sunny Portugal as soon as Britain added it to the so-called green list of foreign destinations around three weeks ago.
“Everybody needed a little break… a change from being stuck at home,” the 44-year-old said as he enjoyed a beer at a restaurant in the heart of Lisbon.
Portugal was the only big beach destination placed on the list, which allowed Britons to travel there without needing to quarantine when returning home. Like Joyce, thousands packed their bags.
But on Thursday Britain shifted Portugal to its amber list due to rising COVID-19 case numbers and the risk of a mutation of the virus variant first discovered in India.
“It’s a bit unfair,” Joyce said. “There are families bringing out kids and people who booked their holidays already…and the stress involved for people, including myself,” a visibly annoyed Joyce said.
Charlotte Cheddle, a 22-year-old from England, echoed the same feelings, urging the British government to either “ban international travel completely or communicate properly with people”.
“It’s silly,” said Cheddle, who will now have to quarantine for 10 days when she flies back. “We made an effort to get tested privately…We paid for everything and we have done everything to make it safe.”
Portugal has lifted most of its lockdown restrictions. The government has been heavily criticised for allowing thousands of mainly maskless English football to party in Porto during the Champions League final last weekend.
Some locals worried it could fuel a spike in cases.
The country of just over 10 million people reported 769 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest daily increase since early April. Total infections now stand at 851,031.
The British government’s decision is a huge blow for Portugal’s tourism sector, which represents a significant chunk of GDP and has Britain as one of its biggest foreign markets.
“It’s not great for businesses but slowly we will get there – or at least I really hope so because our economy is down,” said restaurant manager Ana Paula Gomes in Lisbon.
The head of the hotels’ association in the touristy Algarve region, Eliderico Viegas, said Britain’s move would hit the sector like a “bucket of cold water”.