The country was left off a list of more than 50 countries the UK government has deemed to be safe for holidaymakers to return from without coronavirus-related restrictions, meaning people returning from there will have to quarantine for 14 days.
This will be a major deterrent for British tourists, who accounted for 2.1 million of Portugal’s foreign visitors last year, the second biggest market after Spain.
In a tweet, the Portuguese foreign affairs minister branded it “absurd” that Portugal had been left off the new list despite the UK having 28 times more confirmed deaths related to coronavirus.
The country’s prime minister Antonio Costa, meanwhile, tweeted a graph appearing to show the UK had a much higher number of cases per 100,000 population than the Algarve.
— António Costa (@antoniocostapm)July 3, 2020
He said: “Which is the safest place to stay? You are welcome to spend a safe holiday in Algarve!”
Raul Martins, head of Portugal’s Hotel Association, said: “The outbreak is in peripheral Lisbon where there are no hotels, no tourist restaurants. It has been poorly explained to the British.”
It comes after Downing Street was accused of a “shambolic” handling of the air bridges scheme after it finally unveiled a list of locations English holidaymakers could visit without having to quarantine on Friday.
The list was released without a widely-trailed “traffic light” system, despite it being promised by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, hours earlier during a radio interview.
There are now 73 countries with exemptions, including popular short-haul destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, as well as long-haul locations including Australia, Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam.
Portugal, China, Thailand, the Maldives and the USA are among destinations notable by their absence.
Labour said the government’s failure to negotiate air bridges was “an indictment of their failure to tackle the crisis at home”.
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon added: “Labour, like families and businesses up and down the country, are keen for the government’s quarantine measures to be lessened, but this is a mess.
“First we had the quarantine that they were slow to implement, then they said they’d do air bridges. Now we see a plan to let residents of 60 or more countries into England without any reciprocal arrangements.
“The fact they have been unable to negotiate air bridges is an indictment of their failure to tackle the crisis at home. They were too slow to take lockdown, too slow to order PPE (personal protective equipment) and too slow to protect our country.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) published a separate list of 67 countries and territories which will be exempt from its advisory against all non-essential travel from Saturday, making it easier for UK tourists to be covered by travel insurance while visiting.
Although the FCO included most of the places named by the Department for Transport (DfT), among those missing are Fiji, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
There are also some destinations which the FCO listed but the DfT did not, such as Canada, Estonia, Malaysia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Singapore and the Portuguese regions of the Azores and Madeira.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said holidaymakers having to check the two lists and for any restrictions in their destination country would be “forgiven for thinking this announcement hasn’t been thought through”.
He added: “The government’s attempt to relax international travel restrictions has been a complete mess, leaving millions of people with no clarity over whether their holiday can go ahead and less chance of getting their money back if they can’t go.
“If the government is to have any hope of getting travel back up and running, it must urgently provide clear and coherent guidance on foreign travel to remedy the mass confusion caused so far.”
Noel Josephides, chairman of tour operator Sunvil, told the PA news agency the omission of Portugal from the UK’s quarantine-free list would “kill their peak season” and that the impact on large tour operators such as Tui and Jet2 would be “quite serious”.
He added: “A lot of hotels are going to close, there’s going to be considerable unemployment because of it, and it’s totally unnecessary.”
Additional reporting by PA