ALGARVE, Portugal: A passenger arrives as tour operator´s hosts wait for clients at Faro airport in Algarve, south of Portugal, yesterday. – AFP

FARO, Portugal: British holidaymakers returned to Portugal yesterday as the country seeks to revive its battered tourism industry after lifting travel restrictions that had been imposed to curb COVID-19. Britons are the biggest contingent of tourists in Portugal, a country whose economy relies heavily on foreign visitors. Portugal imposed a strict, two-month confinement earlier this year to control a new wave of coronavirus infections. It lifted restrictions on visitors from Britain and most European Union countries from yesterday.

"It's nice to get away and be back here," said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the southern town of Faro with his wife and 11-year-old son. "We're very excited," Thompson said, 11 years after his first visit to the coastal region of Algarve. Some 30 flights from the UK were expected in Portugal on Monday, including 17 taking around 5,500 passengers to Faro.

"We were desperate to come back. It's fantastic," said Diane Healy, who owns a property in Lagos, a coastal town west of Faro. "I'm over the moon. It's wonderful to be back." The lifting of restrictions came after London placed Portugal on its "green list" of countries to visit without having to self-isolate on returning home. Thousands of English football fans are also expected later this month for the May 29 Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea in Porto. Britons can now visit Portugal as long as they show a negative PCR test result for Covid-19 at most 72 hours before boarding the plane.

Portugal and Britain currently have two of the lowest virus rates in Europe.

Tourism plunged in Portugal last year. The country saw 16.4 million tourists before the pandemic, and only a quarter of that in 2020. The Algarve region, home to 500,000 people, greeted some 3.6 million foreign tourists in 2019 alone, a third of them from Britain. "Today is a special day because we are restarting the engine of our economy," the head of tourism for the region, Joao Fernandes, said. - AFP