by Namrata Majithia 10th July 2020
Leaving Portugal off quarantine-free travel list is hard to understand

London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper carries an interesting article from Manuel Lobo Antunes, the Ambassador of Portugal in the UK, on the science behind Portugal’s current handling of the pandemic.


The current numbers regarding the state of the pandemic in Portugal clearly show that the initial wave of transmission has passed its peak.

This is the result of timely and balanced public health measures, namely the imposition of strong confinement rules alongside other health and safety measures, which have allowed a good control over the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak since the beginning.

Fortunately, the fatality rate has remained lower than that of most other European countries (3.7 per cent and 154 deaths per million inhabitants) and has been consistently on the decline in recent weeks.

Currently, only 3.9 per cent of the active cases remain in hospital and of these merely 0.6 per cent are in intensive care units.

Portugal’s National Health Service is competent, well-prepared and has well-equipped and trained staff in our intensive care units (ICU). My eldest daughter is an ICU doctor and I have heard from her about the fantastic job they have been doing.

Furthermore, Portugal tests intensively: it has, per million people, the fifth highest number of Covid-19 tests in the EU.

Portugal is on the third phase of its deconfinement. Like most other European countries, we have been gradually lifting restrictive measures, based on strict scientific assessment. Our industry and services have resumed full activity, while the majority of shops are open, as are hotels and restaurants.

Public transport is fully functioning, and social distancing and the use of protective masks are mandatory in enclosed spaces.

The incidence rate in Portugal (22.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) remains higher than we would like, although it is in decline.

However, this figure results from the numbers of cases detected in local outbreaks in specific areas around Lisbon, as well as from the easing of strict lockdown measures, as is the case in many other countries, and as such does not offer an accurate representation of the situation nationwide.

The intensive tracing/testing being conducted has also contributed to an increased detection of infections.

Outside these areas, the figures are much lower or even residual, namely in the regions usually chosen by British tourists: the Algarve has seven cases per 100,000 people, Madeira has 1.2, and the Azores 0.4.

Innovative measures have been put in place to accommodate tourists and ensure they enjoy their stay in a safe environment. For example, the app Info Praia and the Environment Agency’s website display real-time information on beach crowding.

A traffic-light system is in place at each beach with coloured signs indicating its level of crowding: green for low occupancy; yellow indicating crowding; and red meaning it is full.

The hospitality industry is also taking strong health and safety precautions. In order to establish confidence among tourists, a “Clean and Safe” label has been issued to establishments fully compliant with the health authorities’ requirements.

In recognition of our work, Portugal was the first European country to receive a “Safe Travels Stamp” from the World Travel & Tourism Council.

In this context, as Portuguese ambassador to the UK, I make no attempt to hide my disappointment, or that of my government, in the fact that Portugal was not included on the list of countries whose travellers are exempt from quarantine on their return to the UK.

It is hard to understand why people travelling from the UK to Madeira or the Azores, even without passing through our continental territory, should quarantine on their return. The same goes for those visiting the Algarve, more than two million every year.

We feel the scientific arguments supporting the UK government’s decision, which we obviously respect, including data, models and other factors, were lacking in detail.

The economic impact of the UK’s decision to keep Portugal under quarantine is immense and there are fears it could be lasting if not scrapped at the next review in just over two weeks.

Until then, with this goal in mind, we are willing to engage with the UK Government, providing it with any information necessary. We have been transparent and open all along and will continue to be so. We recognise in the UK government a loyal interlocutor.

We are confident we will welcome our British friends back to Portugal very soon, as we have done for many years. To enjoy our landscape, our sea, our sun and beaches, our gastronomy and, above all, our friendship.

Manuel Lobo Antunes is ambassador of Portugal to the Court of St James’s

Source: The Telegraph