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Brits flock to Portugal's Algarve as quarantine rules lifted, airport struggles

A tourist checks his mobile as he drinks a beer at a pub during the coronavirus pandemic in downtown Albufeira, Portugal Photo: REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

By Catarina Demony

Portugal is sending border control reinforcements to an airport in the sunny Algarve as authorities struggle to cope with a surge in arrivals of British tourists after quarantine rules were lifted last week.

The decision to send more officers to the airport in Faro on Portugal's southern coast, a popular destination for Britons, came after a picture shared online by a lawmaker on Thursday showed a long queue of hundreds of tourists not social distancing.

"Airport staff were all sent home, the airport is not at all prepared for the flood of people coming in," one Twitter user commented on the picture. "The English traded holidays in Spain and France at the last minute to come to the Algarve.

"Special measures are urgently needed."

The number of passengers arriving from Britain has grown by a whopping 190% since Portugal was removed from Britain's Covid-19 quarantine list on Aug. 20, according to border and immigration service SEF.

The picture was widely shared, with many accusing SEF of not having enough staff to check passports.

In a statement on Friday, SEF said it was a one-off situation when eight flights landed around the same time.

However, to deal with the surge in arrivals, a total of 12 extra border control officers were sent to Faro airport and 10 more will arrive on Sept. 1, SEF said, adding that from Monday more electronic passport gates would also be operating.

Businesses in the Algarve, where the number of registered unemployed in June jumped 216.1% year-on-year in July, were eager to welcome back British visitors, the main source of tourism for Portugal.

But it might be too late to make up for the losses.

"It is important to offset the huge losses we had throughout the year but it will naturally not be enough to make up for the crashes up until August," said Eliderico Viegas, president of Algarve's AHETA hotel association. (Reuters)

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