TRAVEL: Portugal border policy for UK travellers on May 17th

  • UK travellers could be turned away from Portugal due to the EU’s non-essential travel ban
  • Travel firms warn of EU holiday ban due to EU rules
  • Brits travelling to Portugal told to wear masks on beaches and set towels 1.5m apart
  • UK government confirms green list travel update for June 7th

UK travellers keen to escape to warmer climes could have to wait longer than expected for trips to Portugal following the country’s latest COVID border policy announcement for British arrivals.

Holidaymakers aren’t the only ones disappointed by the news. Airlines that had pinned their hopes on a swift uptick in holiday bookings after the UK government announced that Portugal would be one of twelve countries on the green list have also been left frustrated.

Portugal was the only European country to feature on the green list as holiday hotspots such as Spain, France, Cyprus and Greece were categorised as “amber”. Turkey and 42 other destinations, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India, have been added to the red list.

However, recent reports suggest that Portuguese border authorities could refuse Brits entry into the Iberian country next week due to EU rules.

Last month, the UK government confirmed that Britons travelling to green list destinations such as Portugal would not be required to quarantine upon return to England, which has made the country a popular choice for Britons  looking for a summer getaway.

But as the EU has restricted most non-essential travel from third countries, British holiday plans to Portugal are at risk.

Although EU member states can set their COVID border policies as Portugal holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, it must respect EU policy.

Portuguese officials are ready to welcome UK travellers and kickstart its tourism industry, but the EU is advising member states to extend holiday bans.

One senior Portuguese official has described the situation as “diplomatically delicate”.  However, failure to find an alternative solution could see thousands of Britons left in limbo from May 17th.

The issue is not expected to impact the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City on May 29th, with the holiday ban tipped to be lifted before this takes place.

While Portuguese ministers are scheduled to meet on Friday to find a solution to the problem, the European Commission isn’t expected to discuss the Cabinet’s proposal until next week.

If Britons are locked out of Portugal, holidaymakers won’t have many other quarantine-free travel choices, given the rest of the continent has been assessed as “amber” or “red”.

Other destinations on the green list, such as Australia and New Zealand, are not welcoming British holidaymakers. While the escalating situation in Israel, which has been a global leader in the covid vaccine rollout, makes it an unappealing destination for UK travellers.

News of EU rules inhibiting plans to holiday abroad comes as airlines ramp up flights to Portugal in anticipation of a surge in holiday bookings.

Today, Europe’s ultra-low-cost airline Ryanair announced 20,000 extra seats for flights to Portugal from Scotland from May 24th, after adding 245,000 seats from Britain last Friday.

Similarly, British international carrier, EasyJet, said they would be adding 105,000 seats to existing routes to Portugal and Gibraltar – another green list country.

Travel firms anticipated 1,000 Brits to arrive in Portugal Monday, with 44,000 UK travellers expected to fly before May 29th.

However, tourism firm, TUi, said that there had been a decline in holiday bookings this week, citing the lack of clarity and uncertainty over travel rules and COVID border policies as the reason for depressed demand.

Another British-based online travel agent said it was suspending all holiday sales before August 31st due to ongoing uncertainty.

Emigrating to Portugal

Portugal COVID border policy update

Last summer was constantly disrupted by changes in travel rules, which left many holidaymakers uncertain about whether to press ahead with plans to travel overseas, make holiday bookings or opt for a staycation.

So, what can passengers expect when they travel next week?

Portuguese officials have imposed strict rules on beaches, including a traffic light system, detection devices and social distancing measures.

Towels will need to be laid 1.5 metres apart, while groups will need to always remain at least three metres apart from each other and wear masks except when lying on a towel or in the sea.

Meanwhile, the detection devices will assess when beach activity has reached total capacity. Portuguese officials have said that anyone found ignoring the rules will be subjected to EUR 100 fine.

The Council of Ministers is aware that a spike in the infection rate could reverse the country’s progress. To prevent the infection rate from rising, the Portuguese Cabinet has introduced a 10.30PM curfew on restaurants, bars and cafes, with dining permitted under the rule of six indoors and ten for outdoors.

Passengers heading to Portugal will need to present a negative test to UK border officials for outbound trips, irrespective of vaccination status, and a negative PCR test taken within two days of arrival into Britain.

Several airlines, including British Airways, currently only operating from Heathrow Airport, will be reopening their touch-screen kiosks from May 17th to prevent queues.

British Airways kiosks have been covered in an antiviral coating, lasting up to six weeks and is also trialling new technology that will allow passengers to pre-book check-in slots at the airport to minimise human contact.

Heathrow airport will be fogged throughout the day, and extra hand sanitising stations have been set up around the airport.

However, travel firms fear that the lack of clarity beyond the current three-week window for quarantine-free destinations makes it extremely difficult for them to sell holidays.

COVID-19 travel restrictions

Travel firms hit with refund warning ahead of summer holidays

Earlier this week, On the Beach, suspended holidays for all destinations between June and August after the firm’s Chief Executive Simon Cooper said he had “no interest in selling holidays that are unlikely to happen.”

As the probability of foreign travel going ahead for the summer is becoming increasingly unlikely, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned travel firms about their legal obligation to offer passengers refunds.

It comes after the CMA revealed that it had received over 23,000 complaints about tour operators since March 2020. The watchdog has already taken action against five big firms, including Tui and Virgin Holidays, for refusing or delaying refunds.

Separate data from a YouGov poll has shown that just one in nine Britons are confident about travelling overseas this summer.

The survey of 4,247 adults revealed that nearly 75% of respondents were reluctant to make any summer, while 20% decided to book staycations due to ongoing uncertainty.

Meanwhile, 91% of over-65s, many of whom were among the first to get vaccinated, said they would not go abroad this year.

The survey precedes news that the UK government has updated the green list for travel commencing June 7th.

New traffic light system for travel

Government confirms green list travel update

Under Britain’s new traffic light system, which England and Scotland have adopted, twelve countries are featured on the UK’s green list.

When international travel resumes on May 17th, Britons holidaying in “green” destinations will not have to self-isolate upon their return.

UK travellers arriving into England or Scotland from amber destinations will have to isolate at home for ten days. Meanwhile, those returning from “red” countries must quarantine in government-designated hotels at GBP 1,750pp.

Although the British government has not announced which countries have been added to the green list, there have been reports that Caribbean islands such as the British Virgin Islands and Barbados are among the few that could receive quarantine-free status.

However, popular European destinations such as France, Spain, Greece and Italy are likely to remain on the “amber” list due to the COVID-19 situations in those countries.

The third green list update is expected to be announced ahead of the UK government’s review on international travel policy on June 28th.