Update, 4th July 2020: Please see my more recent article for the latest status update.
Up to a week ago, I was complaining that too much fuss was being made about the Coronavirus and the devastating impact it was having on my travel business and that of my local partners and fellow travel bloggers.
I, like many, was in the ‘it’s just a flu’ camp and, despite having read up on the matter, I was less concerned about catching COVID-19 than being stranded by unanticipated travel restrictions. I have been agonising for weeks over a planned trip to a conference in London this weekend.
Not any more.
This current crisis will pass, but in the meantime we need to do whatever we can to influence the impact of the disease and save lives.
We need to slow the spread to prevent uneccessary deaths
Things have changed so quickly over the last few days and I have finally understood the need for drastic measures such as quarantines and self-isolation. COVID-19 is not just media hype, nor is it something that will just ‘blow over’.
This coronavirus spreads so quickly that even though most cases of COVID-19 are mild, even the relatively small percentage of people who need hospital treatment will quickly overwhelm healthcare services once contagion takes hold within communities.
No doctor should have to choose which patients are worth saving simply because there are not enough resources to treat everyone but this is what’s happening in Italy right now.
Each of us has a moral responsibility to do what we can to prevent that happening in other countries, be they our own or the ones we visit. Right now, this includes postponing travel.
I’ve reluctantly cancelled my London trip, which has left me around €500 out of pocket but it was the right decision.
Not only did I not want to end up stuck in London because of flight changes or quarantines, I felt it would be irresponsible to attend an event with 400 other people, not to mention all those I would have encountered during the journey.
What’s the coronavirus situation in Portugal?
Update 13th April 2020: Almost everything except essential services in Portugal is closed and we are encouraged to self-isolate, practice social distancing (2 metres apart) and avoid places where you will encounter other people as much as possible.
So DON’T COME TO PORTUGAL RIGHT NOW – there’s nothing to do anyway!
Portugal has moved into the ‘delay/mitigation’ phase of disease control in a bid to slow down the rate of infection so that they can better control the effects and impact.
This means that schools and universities are already closed, as are public offices, museums, tourist offices and some public transports. Museums and sights are closed completely, until further notice.
Pretty much all public and private events in Portugal have been cancelled or postponed, from major international travel fairs and sporting events to local soup festivals and charity walks, christenings and birthday parties.
These temporary restrictions will go a long way towards helping Portugal manage the pandemic and minimise the number of deaths, either directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus.
For regularly updated reliable information in English about the current measures, see this page on Safe Communities Portugal or visit their Facebook page.
Health advice within Portugal
The advice for people in Portugal, alongside the hygiene recommendations you’ve all seen by now, is to steer clear of crowded places and minimise social contact.
If you develop symptoms, DO NOT go to an emergency room. Keep away from other people and call the SNS 24 line (national health line) 808 24 24 24 for advice on what to do depending on their assessment of your situation. Option 9 is in English.
Should you travel to Portugal now?
For the few weeks, NO! Stay at home.
It’s not that I believe you are at any greater risk of contracting COVID-19 here than in your home country. In fact, if you’re coming from a country where testing has not been adequately carried out, you are more likely to be bringing it with you than taking it home.
Either way, by travelling, you are increasing the risk of spreading the disease, which helps no one.
If you can postpone your trip until later in the year, please do so. Many tour operators are being as flexible as possible with their cancellation and rescheduling policies.
If you have to cancel and can’t get a full refund from the travel providers, you may be able to claim something back from your travel insurance but this is unlikely, to be honest.
When will it be safe to travel to Portugal?
I wish I knew the answer to this one! I hope it will be soon but health is more important than sightseeing. Portugal will still be here when this crisis has passed.
If you have a planned trip coming up, all I can say at this point is that you, like the rest of us, should stay informed as to the rapidly changing situation using reliable sources, such as:
Wikipedia for global travel restrictions
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
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Well done, Julie! It’s hard to cut into your own business, but you have seen the reality and done the right thing. I just came from a month in Madeira and am waiting to return to Canada from Lisbon. We need to see the big and the human picture. Portugal will still be here in a year. Stay safe.
Thank you. I really appreciate your view on the situation in Portugal. Stay safe & thanks again.
We are booked Air Transat Toronto to Porto 14 May 2020. We will cruise the Douro with Croisi 19-25 May. We have no intention of cancelling and will tral unless forbidden by the airline or government or travel insurance is unavailable.
Appreciate your post. We have 5 weeks booked from the 17th May 2 weeks starting in Madrid, Seville then three weeks in Portugal. Our AirBnB cancellation policies are mostly flexible on our 11 bookings. Although I do feel for the AirBnB Hosts. I’ll wait and see early May on the situation then, and we can cancel at that point if need be.
Best regards, Hayley
Thanks for the update and links to the informational sites. We have been planning a trip to Portugal for over a year now scheduled for the beginning of May, and are hoping it will still happen. We’re just watching and waiting at this point (along with the rest of the world) and will reschedule if flights etc. are cancelled. Fingers crossed, things will be good to go by then!
I appreciate your responsible and clear commentary on the situation in Portugal. My decision not to go in 2 weeks was made easier by the airline offering a voucher for a return flight to New Zealand to be used within 1year.
Blessings and Go Well. Bernadette
Thank you, Julie. We have a booking in a villa in Ferragudo which has been booked 6 months ago. I had to pay up front. It is for 11th to 18th April. The whole family was going to celebrate my 70th.
We had to cancel our 4 days to Sorrento where husband and I were spending my actual birthday.
We will actually wait for the airline to cancel as then we might get a refund! I will also contact the villa owners to see whether we could transfer the booking to another date.
But who knows when this will all end?
Horrendous impact on tourism for Portugal, too.
Thank you for the information.
Thank you for clear and sensible advice, Julie.
We are planning to come to Portugal at the end of April but will postpone the trip if necessary.
Stay safe and well , everyone.