Portugal’s tourist hotspots were empty today after a mass exodus of British holidaymakers as the country moved from green to amber on the UK’s travel list.
Beaches, bars and the main airport in Faro were all empty of tourists, where just hours before there had been crowds of people enjoying a break.
While some travellers have been left stranded overseas – and facing bills of thousands of pounds – due to the sudden rule change, it is estimated that thousands fled on 39 flights that departed Faro yesterday, twice the normal figure.
The impact was clearly visible today, with sandy beaches all-but deserted and tables sitting idle a seafront bars.
One of Faro’s busiest beaches, which last week had been full of sunseekers (left) was near deserted today (right) after a mass exodus of British tourists
Faro airport, which last week had been bustling with people (left), was all-but empty today as Britons fled because Covid border rules changed back home
A beachfront bar in the Algarve, one of Portugal’s top tourist destinations, sits empty today after British visitors raced home to avoid new quarantine rules
Bars and restaurants that last week had been filled with people enjoying sunshine and cheap beer were today struggling to attract customers
The UK government took snap decision last week to remove Portugal from its ‘green’ travel list because of the presence of a new variant of Covid.
This ‘Nepal variant’ is believed to be a freshly-mutated version of the Indian variant, which is already in Britain and causing cases to spike.
‘Amber’ rules mean travellers arriving home from Portugal today will have to self-isolate for 10 days and pay for two PCR tests to take on day 2 and day 8.
Breaking quarantine could lead to a £10,000 fine while those who do not take tests on day 2 and day 8 of their self-isolation facing £2,000 penalties.
And those who provide incorrect information on their passenger locator forms could be fined £10,000 or be jailed for 10 years – or both.
Meanwhile George Eustice, the environment secretary, has told Britons they should avoid all foreign travel this year to prevent themselves getting caught out.
Travel bosses have angrily denounced the sudden rule-change, saying ministers risk a jobs bloodbath in a sector that has already spent a year struggling to get by.
And Portuguese politicians have described the decision as ‘unfathomable’, lamenting the loss of valuable tourist income from Britons – who are typically one of the biggest groups to visit the country, and currently one of the most-vaccinated populations in Europe.
‘We take note of the British decision to remove Portugal from the travel ‘green list’, a decision whose logic is unfathomable,’ the foreign ministry said last week.
‘Portugal continues to carry out its prudent and gradual deconfinement plan, with clear rules for the safety of those who live here or visit us.’
Two sunbathers enjoy a stretch of open sand in the Algarve after British tourists hurried to get home, leaving them with plenty of space
Mostly-empty sunloungers are seen on a beach in the Algarve after British visitors fled, taking hopes of a lucrative summer season with them
A restaurant near Faro, Portugal, sits near-empty on Tuesday after Britons left the country to avoid new border quarantine rules back home
Elidérico Viegas, president of the Algarve Hotel and Tourism Business Association, said the region has been forced to pay the price for cases rises in capital Lisbon.
‘It’s unfair because the Algarve is being caught in the middle of all this because case numbers in the region are lower than the minimum considered safe,’ he said.
Britain is due to review the ‘green’ countries in three weeks’ time, with Viegas saying he hopes Portugal will be re-added to the list.
Portugal is currently seeing Covid cases rise as the country exits lockdown, but is still recording fewer cases each day than the UK.
It is lagging far behind the UK on vaccination, however, with some 40 per cent of people given at least one dose – while 60 per cent of Britons have had at least one.
Many holidaymakers and travel firms expressed anger when the announcement on Portugal was made last Thursday, as it came just 17 days after the ban on international leisure travel was lifted.
Alan and Lisa Pechey, from Cambridge, who were on holiday in Lisbon, paid a total of £800 to fly back to Gatwick on Monday, earlier than planned.
Mrs Pechey, 66, told the PA news agency: ‘It was really expensive and I think the Government was totally unfair to throw that at us on Thursday because it really spoiled our holiday, totally.
‘We had flown out on Monday for a relaxing break, but from Thursday onwards we were under extreme stress.’
Ana Pacheco, 28, from Islington, north London, who was on holiday near Porto, paid £300 for her flight home.
She said: ‘I lost money on this trip, about £300 extra, because I was due to come back tomorrow evening, so it is quite annoying.
Covid cases are steadily rising in Portugal but are below levels in the UK, as ministers say the decision to tighten border rules is ‘unfathomable’
Tourists are seen packed into a restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 30 before all British sunseekers were told to leave the country
Carcavelos beach, near Lisbon, is seen on June 4 as tourists visit – ahead of a rule-change which forced Britons to flee the country
A person leaves Dona Ana beach in Lagos, Portugal, on June 3 before British visitors were ordered home – leaving tourist destinations virtually empty
‘I think there should have been extra time added on for us to get home – at least a week would have been better.’
Marcus Gardner, 26, from Battersea, south London, who flew to Gatwick from Porto, said: ‘Our flight was much busier than before – going there only a few people were on the plane but coming back it was full capacity.
‘A lot of people were rushing to get home and at the airport there were loads of people waiting for a flight.’
Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said: ‘Passengers trying to leave Portugal before quarantine requirements come into effect will be wondering why more notice wasn’t given, such as making use of the green watch list, to prevent tens of thousands of people now scrambling to get home.
‘Between flights selling out, expensive fares, and difficulties obtaining tests in time, it’s clear the Government’s current approach to managing the changing situation around travel is flawed.
‘These issues must be addressed before the next green list review, to prevent another disastrous summer for travel.’
The Department for Transport said the situation in Portugal ‘required swift action to protect the gains made with the vaccine rollout’.
It stated that the positivity rate for coronavirus tests in Portugal had nearly doubled since the travel lists were first created four weeks earlier.
The DfT added that 68 cases of the Indian mutation, which is also known as the Delta variant, have been identified in Portugal.
Separate Test and Trace figures show 200 arrivals from Portugal were tested between May 6 and May 19.
Three of those people tested positive for coronavirus.