Air Bridge UK — Portugal

Algarve Life - Amanda Gleaves
6 min readJul 5, 2020


Has the UK made a mistake?

After the announcement that Portugal will not be included on the list of countries qualifying for the Air Bridge —concerns have grown over tourism in the Algarve and Portugal.

The Algarve is a favourite destination for millions of tourists every year

In 2018 the income from tourism in the Algarve topped over a billion euros after catering for 4.2 million guests. In 2017 Portugal received over 23 million guests. The most popular destinations for the international tourists are Fátima, Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve. National tourists prefer Northern Portugal, followed by Central Portugal and, of course, the Algarve.

Sadly, this year we are faced with a very different scenario.

As numbers of those infected with COVID 19 continue to increase in Portugal and more specifically, around the Lisbon area. Many feared that this would influence the UK’s decision regarding the Air Bridge; and it did.

A small but steady increase has also been seen in the Algarve. Local businesses that were hoping to reopen this month for UK tourists spent money they didn’t have to adapt their premises according to new regulations, and are now bitterly disappointed after hearing that Portugal is off the list.

Angry threads and comments soon filled social media. Some seemed confused and thought that visitors from the UK are banned. That is not the case — however, those visiting Portugal from the UK will need to quarantine for 14 days when they return to the UK. Upon arriving in Portugal visitors will have to fill out a form giving contact details in case they need to be traced.

Another problem is that travel from the UK to Portugal is not advised and insurance companies will not validate any insurance policies. Or so I read.

People need to get creative

President of Algarve Tourism João Fernandes said “It is a decision that we regret, that will affect the country in general, but the Algarve in particular. The majority of British tourists in the summer period come to the Algarve.” Raul Martins, head of Portugal’s Hotel Association feels that ‘It has been poorly explained to the British,’ as the outbreak is in peripheral Lisbon where there are no hotels, no tourist restaurants.

It is still an outbreak.

The fact that Britain and Portugal have been allies for 630 years, doesn’t really enter into the equation either. People keep bringing that up. Nor does the fact that Boris was nursed by a Portuguese nurse. This is a virus — it has nothing to do with friendship or the nationality of a nurse.

People do have a reason to feel angry and fearful for the future but they also need to gain a little perspective and maybe even get a little bit creative.

Not all are seeing doom and gloom. Some people are more optimistic and feel that it is likely we will see tourists from other parts of Europe, and that they should promote their business accordingly. One thing is for sure — people all over Europe are eager to get away from it all — so the idea of spending two weeks on a beautiful beach somewhere and just forgetting about 2020 just for a short time, is very appealing.

Others have suggested flying to Spain, hiring a car and driving across the border into Portugal — Sounds more like a scene from a war film than a holiday. However it seems that numbers there are on the increase again, and that might not be something people are willing to do with a car full of kids in 40ºC heat . Also, it might not even be possible, as I heard the Spanish authorities are only allowing entry and car hire services, to those that show proof of a holiday residence, or a second home in Spain.

The idea of thousands of people coming to the Algarve in droves, doesn’t seem very appealing to me, due to the possibility of the potential infections that could occur. Especially after seeing the shenanigans that went on yesterday when the pubs reopened in the UK. The holiday mood, the heat and alcohol could be a very bad combination indeed.

But I get it — the economy needs a major injection!

On the 3rd July Portugal approved Flights between EU/ Schengen countries and the UK. So what made the UK make their decision regarding Portugal? Apparently, a number of factors. But the rise in cases in Lisbon seems to be the only one I can find in the news.

If we take a look in more detail at the numbers (yes, we all know the numbers are just a ‘rough guide’) we can see why Boris is possibly concerned.


On the positive side, Portugal has very few deaths. This is a very interesting point, but it does not mean that is any safer for foreigners. We don’t really know that much about this disease (still…eye roll) or why there are so few deaths here. I think a study might be in order. However — the overall amount of cases per million in Portugal, do not differ that much when compared to the UK and other regions in Europe that have been widely affected. As you can see in the above table.

Some have suggested that Spain was doing its best to get the Air Bridge with the UK and it was hiding the true numbers…well…they haven’t updated for 2 days, the recent restrictions in Catalonia might have something to do with that! We can’t always trust numbers either, we do know that. But — the sad truth is — numbers are increasing in Portugal and in many other places where the lock downs have been lifted. This epidemic is not over.

Portugal claims the numbers are only increasing because they are testing more. The actual truth is that they only test when they have reason to. So, they are not just testing for the sake of it, they are testing because they are trying to trace localised outbreaks.

Has Portugal’s transparency actually saved it from a worse fate?

Is letting tourists in such a good idea? Is Spain really fudging the numbers to get tourists? More tourist — more business. Is it really worth the risk? Has Portugal’s transparency actually saved it from a worse fate? It might not be such a bad thing to wait this one out for a few weeks and let the tourists trickle in. This may give Portugal a chance to ‘see how it goes’ for the other countries without going in the ‘deep end’ itself.

Coming out of lock down and getting through this virus is not going to be an easy task. We can all see that. I actually feel sorry for those in the high positions that have to make these decisions — possibly decisions they are forced to make, for one reason or another. I could not imagine what it would be like to have to decide for a whole nation. I can barely decide what I want from the supermarket.

Open up, close up, open up, close up

I think of it like a torniquete. If we want to save the limb and stop the bleeding, we have to use a tourniquet, but we have to loosen it, to let the blood flow and stop the limb from dying, but then, we have to tighten it again to stop too much blood loss. This is how we have to come out of lock down. Open up, close up, open up, close up. I also believe that this is the idea the governments have — to an extent. We all know that only a minimal amount of people have been infected so far and for us to gain any terrain here, more people need to and will get infected. So by opening up we are letting people get infected, then localised lock down will be the new method. Just like Germany recently and Melbourne, Australia on the 4th July

Opening borders to tourism though, could be a disaster waiting to happen. Tourism outside of your own country seems like a bad idea, but that is just my opinion. People should really think about holidaying at home this year, and this should be promoted by all European countries.



Algarve Life - Amanda Gleaves

I have been living in the Algarve in Portugal since 1989! I have been teaching Portuguese to foreigners for nearly 20 years!