FARO/LISBON, Portugal- Sun-hungry Britons landing in Portugal on Monday after a four-month coronavirus travel ban between the two countries was lifted at midnight were elated to be back on holiday.
"It's fantastic. The feeling is unbelievable. We got the sun, the people, the beaches, the bars. Can't wait," said British tourist Matthew Bolden, giving the thumbs up at the arrivals gate at Lisbon airport.
Twenty-two flights from Britain were due to land in Portugal on Monday, with most heading to the southern Algarve region, famous for its beaches and golf courses but nearly deserted over the past months as the pandemic kept tourists away.
"It feels amazing. Happy, everyone's happy. We were on the first flight out of the UK," said Kim, 27, who arrived from Manchester at Faro airport, where Algarve tourism office workers handed out packs of hand sanitiser and face masks.
Tourism businesses hope the return of Britons, who pumped around 3.2 billion euros ($3.9 billion) into Portugal's economy in 2019, will provide a much-needed boost to the sector, accounting in normal times for 15% of the country's GDP.
"We were massively affected by the pandemic. It was so sad to see the arrivals gate empty. But today it's better. It's a breath of fresh air," said Maria Joao, 55, whose tiny shop in Lisbon airport sells drinks and snacks.
'TAKE IT EASY'
Visitors from Britain must present evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken 72 hours before boarding their flights to Portugal and there is no need to quarantine for COVID-19 when returning home.
Portuguese doctor Rute Castelhano, who has been battling the pandemic in Britain, was exhausted but over-the-moon to see her parents at Lisbon airport after months apart.
"I'm so happy to see my family again," she said through hugs and tears. "It's great to be back home."
Tourists from European countries with fewer than 500 infections per 100,000 people were also allowed in for the first time on Monday.
Portugal, which imposed a strict four-month lockdown to tackle a devastating COVID-19 surge in January, has reopened restaurants and shops but some capacity limitations remain in place and restaurants must close at 10:30 p.m.
Masks must be worn while walking on the beach. Nightclubs and indoor bars selling only alcohol remain closed.
"We are still living in a pandemic," cautioned Marisa Semedo, manager of a riverside cafe kiosk in Lisbon. "They must take it easy, don't drink too much, don't get out of control because the British really like to drink." ($1 = 0.8223 euros)
(Additional reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Alison Williams and Ed Osmond) ((email@example.com; +351 915 616 444 (Twitter: @CatarinaDemony);))