The initial announcement was made less than three weeks after Brits were able to travel to Portugal for non essential travel and without the need for quarantine but from Tuesday, 8 June at 4am, this would no longer be the case as Portugal was moved to the amber list.

On Friday (June 4) morning The Portugal News visited Faro airport, to find many British tourists already boarding early flights to leave the country, while the queues for the test service at the airport snaked around the carpark.

Mr and Mrs Butterworth had travelled to the Algarve to stay in their second home in Lagos and were at the airport to have their Covid-19 test before flying back on Sunday. Friends had text them to let them know about the situation with the green list but they did not have to change any flights as they were already booked for Sunday. The couple had booked a 10 day break in the Algarve after not being able to come out to their holiday home for the past eight months.

“Portugal feels like a very clean and safe place, everyone is very good at wearing their masks and maintaining social distancing. It really is a shame that the country has been taken off the green list but we understand that measures have to be taken to protect your country and ours.”

“We have both been vaccinated and feel confident that the vaccines will cover all of the different variants so we are not worried about the Indian variant.”

“We feel relieved that we have not had to change our flights but don’t know when we will be able to return again or if we will be able to afford it with all of the tests.”

Brothers Vais and Quais Mokhtari were flying back to the UK the following day, Quais has been in the Algarve for the past three months however, his brother arrived only two days ago and they had planned to stay in Vilamoura in the central Algarve for a couple more days when they heard the announcement. When they found out that Portugal was no longer on the green list they rushed to rebook flights and to get tested to enable them to return to the UK.

“My original return ticket price was about 50 pounds, but if I had to travel on the Sunday it would be 300 … The prices have quadrupled!”

“The Algarve is a really great place and it is unfortunate that we did not get enough time to enjoy it to the full. One thing I can say is that there are more cases in the UK than in Portugal. In Portugal people really follow the rules that’s why the case numbers are so low here.”

In Vilamoura, the mood on 4 June was also downbeat and there was a high level of confusion. Sam Gadsdon and Tom Cameron were staying in Albufeira but were enjoying a day out in Vilamoura. They arrived on 3 June and had changed their flight to avoid the quarantine period in the UK when they returned.

“When we came we didn’t know that Portugal were going to be taken off the green list so we just came on holiday and assumed we would have a great time without any problems. Our flight back to the UK had initially been booked for 7am on Tuesday morning but we have changed it now so we can avoid the quarantine when we return”.

Sam paid 270 pounds for his new flight “It was more than I paid initially for the two flights here and back, we really should have had more warning about this.”

Mass departures

By Saturday, 5 June, Portugal’s departure from the “green list” of travel to the United Kingdom had caused a surge of around 10,000 departures from Faro airport.

“There was a concentration of around 10,000 British passengers departing, but it is also interesting to note that, in the same period, 2,500 arrived. Therefore, despite the British rules, there are still Brits arriving in the Algarve”, said João Fernandes, the president of the Algarve Tourism Board to Lusa agency.

The president of the Algarve Tourism Region (RTA) acknowledged that “there were some specific constraints at Faro airport” due to the increase in traffic to the United Kingdom by passengers who sought to return before Amber list rules came into force.

João Fernandes explained that the passengers, ‘many of them British’ were forced to “anticipate their return to arrive in the country before Tuesday”.

The president of RTA explained that the influx that had generated large numbers of people in the ‘check-in’ area, especially on flights to the UK and pointed to two reasons to justify the accumulation in the ‘check-in’ zone: one related to the human resources provided by airlines and the other to the lack of filling in the forms required by the United Kingdom.

Testing woes

By Sunday it was becoming clear that many people were experiencing difficulties in obtaining Covid-19 tests to enable them to travel home.

Many testing labs in the Algarve are not open on a Sunday and the ones that are, in general close at midday.

The Portugal News called every lab and clinic open on the list and only the Barlavento hospital in Portimão (NHS) had any response - except this response was an engaged tone while no other lab or clinic picked up the phone.

A spokesman from the SNS health line said: “If they are not answering the phone then it will mean that they do not have any availability for tests”.

The same SNS worker told The Portugal News that because they are a public entity they cannot recommend private health providers but suggested that I look to travel to a different region of Portugal as they believe that the Algarve today does not have capacity in the public sector for testing if nobody is answering the phone.

A call to a private testing facility in the Algarve confirmed that: “There are no tests available today anywhere in the Algarve and no tests will be available until Wednesday in Portimão and on Tuesday in Faro” - obviously too late for anyone who needed a test to return to the UK before Portugal moved on to the Amber list.

Calm restored

When The Portugal News returned to Faro airport on Monday (7 June) the situation was far calmer with security confirming that they had not been informed of any people missing their flights due to a lack of a Covid test. A check-in assistant at the airport confirmed this, adding that over the weekend there were long queues for a test but she had no knowledge of people missing flights.

At the airport, Claire Grayton told The Portugal News that she was very upset with the UK government in their decision to remove Portugal from the green list: “What they have done to us, giving us such short notice, it’s crazy”.

“First they said that I would need a PCR test when I leave the UK and then an antigen test when you return and now a PCR test, it is really hard to know what you are supposed to do”.
“It has been really difficult to get a test here because of the short notice given to us by the UK government. I managed to get tested at hospital in Loulé and it was a more than two hour wait with my baby to get the antigen test.”

“I had been planning to stay until Friday but have had to return early to avoid the mandatory quarantine when I get back. I have him (her infant son) and he wouldn’t be able to go to nursery and I wouldn’t be able to work”.

Sovereign Fordham was in the queue for a Covid test at the airport but only had one person ahead of her. “I’m not worried right now about getting back but when we first saw the news we were really concerned that we were going to miss our flight back to the UK.”

She had been at the airport since 2.30pm, ahead of her flight scheduled for 8pm. She had initially booked a flight back for 10pm on Tuesday so had changed their flight to avoid the quarantine. “We got here early to make sure that we didn’t miss our flight back”.

When asked about how she has found the paperwork and the entire process, she said: “We have done everything by ourselves and it was easy “.

Rhianna Simmons was waiting for a flight home to the UK, she said: “We have had to move our flights to today because we were initially due to fly back tomorrow, it cost us 235 pounds for us both which really isn’t too bad.”

“We were tested this morning in Albufeira and only had to wait about 20 minutes in total. The paperwork and rules are not difficult to follow and we have managed it. If you look at the government website then all of the information is there and easy to follow and understand.”