British holidaymakers return to Portugal as travel ban ends

People at a viewpoint in Porto, Portugal, on May 17, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

FARO, PORTUGAL (REUTERS) - Sun-hungry British visitors descended on Portuguese beaches once again on Monday (May 17) as a four-month ban on travel between the two countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic ended, in a much-needed boost for the struggling tourism sector.

Twenty-two flights from Britain are due to land in Portugal on Monday, with most heading to the southern Algarve region, famous for its beaches and golf courses but nearly deserted as the pandemic kept tourists away.

"The sunshine is the reason we're back. The sunshine... Just a nice walk on the beach," said British tourist Mandy as she walked onto the sun-lit pavement outside the Faro airport building.

Algarve tourism workers stood at the door of the airport handing out kits containing hand sanitiser and two masks.

"It feels amazing. Happy, everyone's happy. We were on the first flight out of the UK," said an arrival called Kim, 27, who came from Manchester to stay in the Algarve for a couple of weeks. At the Lisbon airport, shop workers were delighted to see tourists once again.

"We were massively affected by the pandemic. Everything shut and now it's opening slowly. It was so sad to see the arrivals' gate empty. But today it's better. It's a breath of fresh air," said Ms Maria Joao, 55, whose tiny shop by the gate sells snacks and beverages.

Visitors from Britain must present evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken 72 hours before boarding their flights to Portugal, and there is no need to quarantine for Covid-19 when returning home.

Data from flight website Skyscanner showed a 616 per cent week-on-week rise in bookings to Portugal in the week of Britain's green list announcement.

Back at home, most British people will be free once again to hug, albeit cautiously, drink a pint in their pub, sit down to an indoor meal or visit the cinema after the ending of a series of lockdowns that imposed the strictest ever restrictions in peacetime.

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