DESPERATE holiday Brits were caught in Covid chaos yesterday as they raced against time to get home from Portugal.
Thousands have not been able to book tests they must have before they are permitted to fly back to the UK to beat tomorrow’s 4am deadline.
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Anyone landing after then will have to quarantine for ten days — and spend hundreds of pounds on more Covid testing.
Around 13,000 Brits are rushing to get back after Portugal was put on the UK’s amber travel list and tempers were beginning to fray at Faro Airport last night.
It was among six airports in Portugal — others include Lisbon and Porto — from which holidaymakers are set to jet to the UK today on more than 70 flights.
Many people at Faro were at their wits’ end because nose and throat swab centres on the Algarve were shut over the weekend. The airport authorities had a mobile testing centre brought in on a lorry because of “insufficient capacity” to deal with walk-ins.
Some Brits were clubbing together to pay for private jets home. Katherine Hitchen, 30, was among those forced to cut short a holiday when No10 removed Portugal’s green list travel status.
She was with her dad, Michael, and daughter Ivy, three, at Faro Airport. Katherine, from Hindhead, Surrey, said: “We touched down on Thursday to texts saying Portugal had been put on the amber list.
"We’ve paid £320 to reschedule our flights but getting our tests is proving tricky. A lot of testing centres are turning people away. It’s been a pretty stressful few days. I wouldn’t have come if I’d know it would turn out this way.”
Louise Cooper, 55, of High Peak, Derbys, arrived eight hours before her flight home with Izzy Hertzog, 53, and Lorraine Allsops, 54. She said the friends had spent three days trying to get tested ahead of their return.
Louise said: “It’s been a nightmare. Everywhere was fully booked. The only place we were offered was a drive-thru an hour from Praia da Luz where we’re staying, but we don’t have a car. It’s not been the restful holiday we were looking forward to.”
Joiner Lewis Mills, 21, of Manchester, spoke to The Sun while queueing for the airport’s mobile testing centre. Lewis, in Portugal with four pals, said: “I’ve heard horror stories about people getting turned away from flights because they haven’t had the right tests or filled in the right forms. It’s all so confusing.
“Getting tests has been chaotic with prices ranging from 20 to 100 Euros — and you can’t be sure then whether you’ll be declared fit to fly once you get your result.
“Everyone’s afraid of not getting their result in time, missing their flight and having to find another at huge expense. You might have to quarantine if it all goes wrong. It’s no wonder people are stressing.”
'We urgently need clarity'
A Sun trawl of Portuguese Covid test labs laid bare the nightmare facing trippers. Algarve Biomedical Centre had no slots available until 8pm tomorrow.
The Germano de Sousa lab offered rapid flow tests but calls to its switchboard were not answered. Calls to Farmacia Alves da Sousa rang out. The Farmacia Albufeira lateral flow test centre offered a booking — but for Friday.
Rohan Jayawardene, of private firm Diamonté Jets, said the business had seen a 300 per cent increase in bookings from people trying to leave Portugal.
They didn’t even check our test results.
Among their flights is one due to land at Luton Airport at 3am tomorrow — just one hour ahead of the deadline. He said: “The average cost for a one-way flight on an eight-seater Gulf Stream G200 from Faro to Luton is £18,500. We have seen families and couples getting together and sharing the price.
“Faro Airport is so busy we’re struggling for parking. It’s touch and go. We come in, pick up passengers and fly off again.”
Meanwhile, passengers arriving back at Heathrow yesterday were angry at having to return. James Smart, 62, and wife Maggie, 61, flew back a week early from their trip to Albufeira with their three grandchildren. Mr Smart, from Cheshire, said: “They didn’t even check our test results.”
Retired teacher Maggie said: “It’s all so confusing. The government hasn’t made it clear what you need to do when you return.”
The Sun’s Travel Editor, Lisa Minot, said: “The move to relegate Portugal to the amber list at just a few days notice was always going to cause this kind of disruption.
“We urgently need clarity — either we can travel or we can’t. This current system just isn’t working.”
The Sun Says: Holiday Hell
The Sun Says
WHETHER or not it was right for the UK to err on the side of caution by removing Portugal from its travel green list, the aftermath for those caught in the crossfire is undeniably a godawful mess.
Sunseekers find themselves trapped in a headache-inducing maelstrom of bureaucracy and endless queues, despite having followed all the rules.
Yes, going on a holiday during a pandemic will always carry risk, but the Government must look at the scenes of despair in the Algarve and learn fast.
It is unlikely, after all, that this is the last time extra Covid travel restrictions will have to be slapped on a holiday destination at short notice.
Any ideas to ease the disruption are worth investigating. Could British rapid-response teams be deployed to help meet the extra surge in pre-flight Covid testing required, for example?
Relying simply on local provision is optimistic, as holidaymakers found with test centres in the Algarve shutting their doors over the weekend.
Amid Portuguese anger at what they see as an arbitrary attack on their tourist industry, who can blame the locals for not going the extra mile? It is one thing for our ministers to take the tough decisions, but they can’t just scuttle away from the clean-up afterwards.
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