Britain’s decision to relegate Portugal to the amber travel list left Francina Pinheiro totally exasperated. “We have done everything by the rules here,” said Pinheiro, the owner of a café next to Torre dos Clérigos, one of Porto’s iconic landmarks, when customers arrived for lunch on Friday.
“We sanitize everything, we reduced the number of our tables. Everything so that we can welcome our friends from abroad.
“And, pah, now they close the door on us!”
The normally cheerful Pinheiro was still shaking her head at the decision. After months of despondency, the sight of tourists recently returning to their sidewalk tables and drinking a above (small beer) or tasting its precious biscuits (fish cakes) had put a jump in his step.
Now British visitors will join their American and Brazilian customers, another major source of income, to disappear from the streets of Porto. That leaves her turning to local customers, who, however loyal, tend to be content with a € 0.95 cup of black coffee.
The damage comes after months in which the city center, usually crowded with weekend visitors, has felt like a morgue in its stillness. Only in the last few months has life started to return to the streets as residents venture back to work and restrictions begin to ease.
A large part of the frustration local business owners feel is due to the efforts they have made to comply with Covid security precautions. Add to that the feeling that Porto is paying for increases in infection rates in other parts of the country. In a painful response to the UK’s unexpected move, the city’s tourism chief described the degradation as “regrettable”, “unfair” and “unacceptable”.
“There is no reason for this decision, which surprises the Portuguese government [and which] it causes serious damage to tourism ”, said Luís Pedro Martins, president of the tourism board of Porto and the north of Portugal.
Porto isn’t as reliant on sun-hungry British tourists as the country’s coastal hotspots like the Algarve and Madeira. Its laid-back vibe also doesn’t attract the hip, party crowd that Lisbon might. Even so, its beautiful Unesco-certified historic center and famous wineries still make it in demand, especially among an older and richer clientele. Such are his silent charms that he was recently named Europe’s leading city break destination.
The fact that the city was packed with British football fans last weekend only adds to the bitter sense of disappointment. Seeing the city’s hotels packed once again and the bars overflowing made it seem like the good times might finally return. But it also sounded the alarms, with many Porto residents also blaming their own government for opening the door to some 16,000 Manchester City and Chelsea fans for last weekend’s Champions League final.
Initially, residents were assured that ticket holders for the final would be transferred by bus directly from the airport to the venue at Porto FC’s Dragão stadium, and then back.
“That never happened,” said Sergio Miranda, owner of a local travel agency. “It was a lie from the beginning. As much as fans drink in the street and don’t wear masks, that’s what bothers a lot of us. “
People’s frustration is also tinged with anger. After months of diligently adhering to the wearing of masks and other strict Covid restrictions, many had envisioned an excellent summer tourist season as the reward for their sacrifices. Many add that it is not that the infection figures are even very high in Porto. Although national figures have increased slightly in recent weeks (the R number is now 1.08), most new cases are concentrated 300 km south of Lisbon.
“The [case] the numbers here are lower than in the UK, ”said Ingrid Koeck, a partner at Torel Boutiques, which has two hotels and an apartment complex in the city. “On the day of the announcement, Porto did not record a single Covid-related death.”
The tourist office echoes the view of many that Porto is being unfairly punished due to “pressure” in the UK to reach its own June 21 goal to relax the blockade.
Even if the country can return to the green list soon, the damage has already been done. “With Portugal on the UK green list and summer starting, we became convinced that the worst could be over,” said José Santos, a Porto-based airline flight attendant who has seen his workload drop during the pandemic. “Now who knows?”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism