Update, 4th July 2020: Please see my more recent article for the latest status update.
At the beginning of May 2020, the million-dollar question of when will people be able to travel to Portugal remains unanswered, I’m afraid.
As we all know, there are still too many unknowns about this virus for anyone to confidently predict the future. All I can do is tell you what I know and think at this point in time, knowing full well that the situation will change again.
Like many of you, I’m anxious to know how long this pandemic is likely to last, more specifically when we will have a vaccine so that we can plan trips with confidence. To that end, I’ve been devouring news articles, attending web conferences and trying to gather any relevant information that will help inform our decisions about travel plans that are on hold at the moment.
I have already accepted that my trip of a lifetime to India in September is not going to happen but will I still be able to go to the Azores in August as planned? Who knows?! And, to be honest, do I even want to make the journey? I’m not at all keen on being in an airport or on a plane right now, for the same reasons as airline blogger, Kerwin McKenzie.
Given that we only begin easing our way out of lockdown today, May 4th, it’s too soon to say how I feel about being among other people.
Portugal’s step by step easement measures
Portugal is currently taking its first steps to bring us out of lockdown. Small local shops, schools for the youngest and eldest children, some public services and sports facilities reopen on 4th May.
If all goes well, the next phase of opening, which includes restuarants, larger shops and museums, will take place on 18th May. I am struggling to get my head around how going to a café or restaurant will work, or be a relaxed, enjoyable experience, despite the myriad of hygiene measures and limits on capacity that are being enforced. Only time will tell on that one.
1st June will see shopping malls, cinemas and day care centres operating, again with restrictions on the capacity.
Wearing face masks in public
It will be compulsory to wear face masks in shops and confined public spaces, especially public transport, and hefty fines for non-compliance.
Although the government has promised that there will be ready supplies of affordable masks and other hygiene products (hand sanitisers, gloves etc.) in all supermarkets, there were no masks for sale in the shop I went to and only one over-priced bottle of 75% alcohol hand gel so there is still a way to go before it’s easy for all of us to meet the requirements.
Portugal as a safe destination
It is clear that the relatively swift and competent actions taken by the government have kept the spread and death rates relatively low and that Portugal is a safe destination in as much as things appear to be under control.
Until there’s a vaccine, a treatment, or at least widespread and effective tracing and testing, we’ll still need to keep our distance from each other so Portugal’s low population (around 10 million) is a blessing in disguise as it means there are still plenty of places where you can escape the crowds. Its natural parks are beautiful so for country breaks, walking holidays and off-the-beaten-track experiences, it’s ideal.
We also have LOTS of beautiful beaches in Portugal. However, there will be restrictions this summer – beaches with no lifeguards will be off-limits and there will be a cap on the number of people allowed on patrolled beaches. Beach cafés are likely to be takeaway service only but I’ve yet to fully understand how public toilets and beach showers can be kept clean and safe throughout the day.
To reinforce and promote Portugal as a desirable destination, and instil confidence among travellers, the Portuguese tourist board has introduced a certification that businesses can apply for, assuming they meet the required standards of hygiene and prevention for their facilities, staff and clients.
International travel to Portugal
However, while EU borders remain closed until at least May 18th, and most countries are, quite rightly, advising citizens to avoid all but essential travel, leisure travel remains a way off for the time being.
Different countries are at different stages of their COVID-19 outbreak and will therefore need to judge when and to whom they should open their borders on a case by case basis. The European Commission is working to establish protocols that will help countries manage this efficiently.
Current thinking within the Portuguese toursim sector is that this summer’s holidaymakers will be primarily domestic tourists and perhaps some from Spain who will travel by road or rail. France is staying closed until the end of July so that means no road trips through Europe, or at least none that pass through France.
Once airlines begin to reopen routes, depending on the safety of the destinations involved, there is hope that some tourists from other European countires may be able to visit Portugal either in late summer or towards the end of the year.
From what I can gather from the airlines, the first routes that Portugal is hoping will open up are ones where Portuguese people have emigrated, e.g. London, Paris and US cities like Boston and Newark. However, the anticipated visitors are likely to be people wanting to visit family members rather than leisure travellers.
So what should you do about your trip to Portugal?
At this point, if you have a trip booked for May or June, unless it’s for relocation or repatriation purposes, it’s most likely to be cancelled if that hasn’t already happened. If your airline has not yet cancelled your flight, wait for them to make the first move.
To be honest, I think the same will apply for July trips but again, wait and see what your travel suppliers offer you in terms of refunds unless you’re sure you can get free cancellation even if you wait.
Later in the summer is still looking unlikely at this point but you can wait to see how things progress.
I think it’s too early to comment on already planned autumn trips – this will depend on many factors, not least the developments in testing and how countries have coped with coming out of lockdown.
If you haven’t already booked your Portugal trip, I would be looking at winter 2020 or spring 2021 at the earliest and I wouldn’t book anything that can’t be cancelled or rescheduled if necessary.
Note that if you are intending to walk the Camino de Santiago, 2021 is a Holy Year so it might be worth booking that up even if you have to reschedule in light of developments.
Up to date information about the situation in Portugal
As I’m sure you know, there are new developments every day and I can’t commit to being the most up to date source of information for you.
The Safe Communities Portugal page and their Facebook page continue to be excellent sources of reliable information in English about the current situation so please check their sites for the most recent and detailed information.
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