British tourists scrambled to leave Portugal over the weekend in order to beat a Tuesday deadline for a new quarantine imposed by the British government on those returning from Portugal. The country is one of the most popular destinations for British tourists.
Britain had recently put Portugal and 12 other countries and territories with low coronavirus caseloads on a “green list,” allowing visitors coming from Britain to avoid a quarantine period upon returning from those locations.
Britons fatigued by a miserable winter and a four-month national lockdown had just begun flocking to Portugal, because most of the other green-listed places were either not accepting tourists or were not already favored destinations. The process still involved several forms and P.C.R. virus tests, whose costs can total hundreds of dollars.
The decision Thursday to reintroduce restrictions was heavily criticized by British travel operators and opposition politicians. But the government defended the move as a health-safety requirement to help Britain fight a new coronavirus variant that was first detected in India, known now as the Delta variant.
Britain’s switch of travel rules for Portugal, prompted thousands of British tourists to pay extra to rebook themselves onto early return flights. British Airways and other airlines added flight capacity to help bring them home.
As British tourists headed early for the airport in Faro on Sunday, a major tourism hub in Portugal’s southern Algarve region, the line there stretched well outside the terminal, according to reports from British newspapers.
The latest quarantine decision came less than a week after thousands of English soccer fans had visited Porto, in northern Portugal, to watch the final of the Champions League, with no quarantine restriction.
In Portugal, vendors had been excited to welcome back tourists, although some in the country had grumbled about foreign visitors not following local restrictions, which include mask wearing outdoors and a 10:30 p.m. curfew.
The move by British officials comes as cases remain generally low in Britain, though officials have been working to contain surges of the Delta variant. Cases have increased by 89 percent from the average two weeks ago, while deaths have increased by 49 percent, according to a New York Times database.