By Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal will allow vaccinated U.S. tourists into the country, which is trying to salvage its summer holiday season that has been badly affected by the pandemic.
Portugal's tourism sector - which accounted for almost 15% of GDP before the pandemic - had its worst results since the mid-1980s last year, with the number of foreign tourists slumping 76% to just under 4 million after a record 2019.
"We are in a position to approve the opening of non-essential travel and flights to people from the U.S. to Portugal as long as they have a vaccination certificate," Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira, cited by Portuguese radio Renascenca, said on Tuesday.
Tourists from the United States wanting to travel to Portugal should have received final doses of one of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency at least 14 days before their trip, Siza Vieira said.
"I believe that next week we will be able to have this up and running," he said during a trip to the Algarve region. He did not give an exact date for when U.S. tourists would be allowed in.
Official figures showed that around 1.2 million tourists from the United States visited Portugal in 2019 but only 135,229 managed to make it there last year as the pandemic grounded flights and forced countries to impose travel restrictions.
Siza Vieira's comments came after Britain's announcement last week that it would reimpose a quarantine regime for travellers coming from Portugal, a major blow to the tourism sector.
Britain is one of Portugal's biggest foreign tourist markets and without visitors from the UK businesses in regions such as the Algarve, famous for its beaches and golf courses, will continue to struggle to make ends meet.
Portugal, which imposed a strict lockdown in January to tackle what was then the world's worst coronavirus surge, has lifted most of its restrictions. The number of daily COVID-19 cases has slightly increased in recent weeks.
The country of just over 10 million is currently open to tourists from European Union countries with low infection rates and from Britain but passengers must show a negative coronavirus test on arrival.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Jane Merriman)