A report in the Telegraph this morning stating that Portugal has lower Covid-19 rates per capita than several other countries in Europe – namely, Belgium, Monaco and Andorra, which remain on the UK’s green list – surprised few of those in the travel industry in the Algarve that I have just spoken to. All are indignant, and feel that Portugal has been treated unfairly.
Having been shocked by the initial placing of Portugal on the red list, there were those who believed the country would be swiftly moved onto the amber or green list as the small clusters in the dormitory towns around greater Lisbon were brought under control.
Disbelief followed after the first policy review on July 24 saw Portugal kept on the naughty step, especially as it was confirmed that Spain, with far more cases, would remain on the ‘safe list’ (at least until, in what has become commonplace for this government, a U-turn the next day).
Disillusionment has now totally set in – as well as bewilderment and hurt. No-one here expected to be treated like that by their oldest ally or be penalised for their transparency and testing efficiency.
But the feeling of injustice at British hands, again underlined by the latest tweaks to ‘The List’ last night, are dwarfed by the very sobering reality of trying to run a hotel without guests.
“We have invested heavily in all recommendations,” I was told by Hallie who, with her husband Tim, are Brits who restored and opened the lovely 15-room Fazenda Nova, in the Eastern Algarve, some years ago. “We have bought disinfectant for the sun loungers, the necessary treatments for the pool, antiseptic gel, re-organised the restaurant to encompass social distancing and yet in the two weeks that we have been open we are getting scores of cancellations from Britons who say, ‘we are being told it is unsafe in Portugal’. The result is we are operating at the moment as though it is March, not high season, with just a few of our 15 rooms occupied.”
On the other side of the Algarve, on the wild western corner of Sagres (which to date has not registered one case of Covid-19), family-friendly Martinhal was buzzing with Swiss and Dutch rather than their normal British clientele when I visited yesterday.
“We feel so safe here,” one Dutch guest told owner Chitra Stern. “Everyone here is vigilant about wearing masks which gives us far more confidence than being back at home’. Indeed, mask-wearing in all interior spaces was made mandatory when lockdown was eased back in May.
“It is sad,” said British citizen Chitra, “not to have many British; the Algarve welcomes more than two million of them each summer. But of the few that are here, many are extending their stays. Embraced by a national park on all sides and the Atlantic in front, the feeling of space here is strong, and with our accommodation mainly in villas that suits the social distancing requirements.”
She added: “I think we are seeing the beginning of a new travel tribe from Britain, digital nomads who have gone one step further than the WFH brigade.”
Good Wi-Fi, in cases like these, is clearly trusted more than a bad government.