Portugal: Can I travel there and is it safe?

Many prospective visitors to Portugal have contacted The Independent about travel to the country in summer 2020. These are the key questions and answers.

Can I go to Portugal?

Anyone with a valid British passport can travel to Portugal. There are plenty of flights every day from the UK, predominantly to Faro, serving the Algarve, and also the capital, Lisbon.

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But the travellers from Portugal to the UK, including returning British holidaymakers, will need to self-isolate for two weeks.

And because the Foreign Office advises against travel anywhere in mainland Portugal, standard travel insurance policies are not valid; this does not apply to the Azores or Madeira.

What exactly does the British government say?

Portugal, unlike Spain, France, Italy and many other countries, is regarded as having too high a prevalence of coronavirus to allow the quarantine restriction to be lifted.

So travellers are told to self-isolate for two weeks. The UK government says: "When you arrive in the UK, you will not be allowed to leave the place where you're staying for the first 14 days.

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"This is because it can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear."

The only way to reduce the quarantine is to leave the country.

Separately, the Foreign Office says: "Madeira and the Azores are exempt from the FCO advice against all non-essential international travel.

"This is based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks."

But even though the Foreign Office office has put Portugal's Atlantic islands on the "good" list, quarantine is still necessary.

How do the Portuguese respond?

They are furious. The country's ambassador to the UK, Manuel Lobo Antunes, wrote in the Telegraph: "The incidence rate in Portugal (22.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) remains higher than we would like, although it is in decline.

"However, this figure results from the numbers of cases detected in local outbreaks in specific areas around Lisbon, as well as from the easing of strict lockdown measures, as is the case in many other countries, and as such does not offer an accurate representation of the situation nationwide.

"Outside these areas, the figures are much lower or even residual, namely in the regions usually chosen by British tourists: the Algarve has seven cases per 100,000 people, Madeira has 1.2, and the Azores 0.4.

"It is hard to understand why people travelling from the UK to Madeira or the Azores, even without passing through our continental territory, should quarantine on their return.

The same goes for those visiting the Algarve.

"The economic impact of the UK's decision to keep Portugal under quarantine is immense and there are fears it could be lasting if not scrapped at the next review in just over two weeks."

What do other countries say about Portugal?

The Belgian foreign ministry warns against travel to specific locations in and around Lisbon: the Santa Clara district, as well as the suburbs of Amadora, Odivelas, Loures and Sintra.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health says that travellers arriving in Norway from Portugal -- as well as Luxembourg and Sweden -- must quarantine for 10 days.

It bases the decision on the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The institute says Portugal has 46. This is more than twice as high as the Portuguese ambassador's figure of 22.

For comparison, the Norwegian figure is 18 for the UK and less than one for Estonia and Latvia (both of which, curiously, are not on the UK "no-quarantine" list).

When might the UK government assessment change?

At any time; the Foreign Office says it constantly monitors its advice for British travellers going abroad.

But while that is decided for the whole UK, each of the four nations will make its own decision on how appropriate it will be for arrivals from Portugal to avoid quarantine.

They may differentiate between different parts of Portugal, as other governments have done.

Two key dates are impending: 20 July, which is the day when a second review of the quarantine policy must take place; and 31 July, which was indicated by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps as the next date for revising the list.

The Independent expects Portugal to be granted exemption before the end of July, but there is no guarantee of this.

Can I avoid quarantine by travelling through Spain on the way back from Portugal?

No. All arriving travellers to the UK must complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) in the 48 hours before they are due to reach the UK. They must declare if they have been to a country that is not on the no-quarantine list.

If, though, you spend some time in an "approved" country after leaving Portugal, that time is subtracted from the self-isolation obligation.

So if you spend a week in Portugal followed by a week in Spain, you will need to quarantine for only a week on return to the UK.

What will Portugal be like if I go?

Temperatures are checked automatically on arrival, and personal details collected.

Anyone flying to Madeira or the Azores must either produce a certificate showing a negative test result within 72 hours of arriving or undergo a test on arrival.

Masks are compulsory on public transport, in shops, other enclosed spaces or "in places with many people", according to Visit Portugal.

Beaches have a "traffic-light" system: green is for low occupancy; yellow indicates some crowding; and red meaning it is full.

I have a flight reservation for Portugal. Can I get a refund?

No. If the plane is still going, the fact that you choose not to travel on it is not the airline's problem; the carrier can keep your money.

But many flights are being cancelled because of the UK government action, and so you should wait to see if yours is one of them -- at which point you are due all your money back, for both legs, if you booked a return but only one flight is cancelled.

Alternatively, your travel insurer may offer some recompense.

I have a package holiday booked to Portugal.

What are my options?

Holiday companies will comply with the Foreign Office advice, so at present they should not be sending anyone to mainland Portugal.

The quarantine requirement to self-isolate for two weeks on return to the UK, though, does not mean your holiday is automatically cancelled.

While the big firms -- Tui and Jet2 -- say they will not take anyone to Portugal if the requirement to self-isolate is still in effect on return to the UK, other companies may still operate trips to Madeira and the Azores.

If you are concerned about your trip, talk to your tour operator. They may offer the chance to postpone or switch destination, or they could just invite you to wait longer.

Should I pay the balance for my September holiday?

If you can afford to do so, pay the balance. There is a significant possibility that your trip will go ahead as normal, in which case you should have a happy and safe holiday.

There some likelihood that the trip will be cancelled.

If that happens, you can expect a full refund of the whole cost of the trip (theoretically within two weeks, though it could take longer).

It may sound counter-intuitive to pay out more money to guarantee either a holiday or your money back, but that is the way the system works.

Were the travel company should fail before your departure, then the full cost of the holiday would be refunded under the Atol scheme.

Deciding not to pay the balance would mean that you lose the deposit.

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