The move was announced on 17 January, when the Council of the European Union updated the list of countries not subject to travel restrictions. Canada was on that list until 17 January. Then it was not, along with fellow rejects, Australia and Argentina.
Bans on travel to the EU surfaced in March 2020 as an attempt to slow transmission of Covid-19. After a few months of restricting all non-essential travel, the Council of the European Union recommended temporary restrictions, with the possibility of lifting these restrictions for certain countries based on a variety of criteria, including a 14-day average of Covid-19 cases, a stable or decreasing number of new cases, and the number of vaccinated citizens.
The good news for Canadians comes from an EU official with the Council of the European Union, who explains that Council recommendations are not legally binding, and that authorities of member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendations. The bad news is that finding a Portuguese authority who is willing to go on record is like stumbling around in a maze.
The Embassy of Canada in Lisbon was unable to clarify border measures as they are implemented by the local government; however, a source with the Embassy did say that Canada is not currently on the list of countries allowed to enter Portugal for non-essential travel. The Portuguese Embassy in Ottawa confirmed that Canada has been removed from the list, but offered some hope that this might change when the Council of the European Union reviews the list on 28 February.
Results of the 28 February review will be posted on the Visit Portugal website, where current feedback from users ranges from disappointment at this omission to anger and frustration at hastily cancelled trips. A man named Al wrote, “I am extremely disappointed with the Portuguese Government for not allowing Canadians to enter Portugal for non-essential travel. Canada has one of the best vaccination rates in the world.”
With more than 80 percent of Canadians fully vaccinated, and about 40 percent with a booster dose, Canada’s success rate with Covid-19 is at the heart of many of the postings on the Visit Portugal website. There is also a note of incredulity that although Canada is not currently on a list approved for non-essential travel, major airlines continue to book Canadians on flights to Portugal. As an Air Canada ticket representative put it, passengers are responsible for checking admission requirements for their own destinations.
The light at the end of the travel tunnel comes from a 15 February media briefing about an easing of requirements for Canada’s fully vaccinated international travellers – changes made possible, according to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, because Canada has passed the peak of Omicron and Canadians have listened to the science.
We Canadians do tend to be good listeners, and we are generally polite – with one recent and quite notable exception. Here’s hoping Portugal will do the right thing and allow us to visit again – not for any essential reason, but because so many of us have come to love Portugal and feel at home there.
Suzanne Robicheau is an award winning writer based in Nova Scotia, Canada. She and her husband are anxious to resume their annual winter visits to the Algarve.