I travelled to Portugal on a very restricted lockdown. The country was closed for leisure travel. It was a surreal experience to be practically the only tourist in an entire city. Read the article and find out how it was.
First some background information on the context that led Portugal to the lockdown.
In January 2021 Portugal was leading the world in the number of new infections of COVID-19 and second in deaths caused by the coronavirus per million inhabitants. In fact, the explosion of covid-19 in Portugal caused the hospital system to collapse. Consequently, the government asked for help from the European Union to transfer patients to beds in other countries of the block.
Today, the country is in the best situation in Europe. Do you have a guess how this was possible in such a short time?
What Portugal looks like in lockdown
You can imagine that the answer to the COVID-19 situation improving, was the seriousness of Portugal in lockdown. Exactly. Not much of a mystery. With no contacts and no travel, the numbers of infections plummeted.
It was certainly an interesting experience living in this scenario in Espinho, a coastal town approximately 20km from Porto. That’s because, I came out of Berlin, where people don’t seem to care about the pandemic and circulate without masks and crowd in parks and on the streets. Not to mention the protests against the COVD-19 measures, orchestrated by hundreds of virus deniers and adherents of conspiracy theories. In other words, in Berlin, as well as throughout Germany, there are thousands of hundreds of people who do not believe in the coronavirus.
Upon arriving in Portugal, I immediately felt that it was a completely different story.
First, the confinement is severe and also taken seriously. People were not allowed out on the streets until a few days ago. Now they can only go out to exercise in the open air, but always wearing masks. Even on the beach.
State of Emergency
Portugal declared a state of emergency in January and with it, the civic duty to stay at home. In other words, you were only allowed to go out for activities considered essential. The home office became mandatory, commerce closed, and there was a curfew. Restaurants are only open for take-away and hotels are closed.
So much so that it was difficult to find a place to stay. We stayed in seasonal apartments. What I, as a sustainable traveller, particularly preferred.
The moment the person responsible for the lodging received us at the door, she already appeared with a disinfectant spray in her hand, asked us to move away and hysterically disinfected our bags. She then ordered us to disinfect our hands as well and gave us a series of extreme hygiene recommendations. We were a little scared, but then we realized that everyone in the city acts the same way.
The state of emergency is renewed every 15 days and will last apparently as long as the population is not vaccinated.
These restaurants in the photo to the side are on the busy seaside avenue in the city of Espinho. Now with Portugal in lockdown, everything is so empty and closed.
In fact, the beach promenades were closed for weeks and only recently reopened for exercise.
Portugal in lockdown - travel is banned
It seems that Portugal has proven that in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic, there is no other way than to confine the population so that contact is extremely restricted. There are no half measures in the country. There are strict measures and control.
Some flights are forbidden, for example to Brazil and England.
Tourism and leisure travel are totally out of the question. The land borders are closed, that is, people cannot even circulate between different districts. And if they disobey, the fine is one thousand Euros.
To enter the country, I needed a declaration saying that I was working. And of course, I needed to carry this paper everywhere while I was in Portugal. Similarly, when we were invited by the organizer of the festival we were attending to have dinner at his house – a little out of town, we needed to carry a declaration that we were leaving town on business. After all, we would need to justify this to the police, in case they were to control our itinerary.
Can a trip in the pandemic be sustainable?
I believe that if it is simply a leisure trip, it is best to avoid it. Even in areas where there are no bans. After all, it was travel that spread the virus in the world and continues to spread the variants. Surely there are other leisure alternatives close to where you live.
To be sustainable is to have a responsibility also for behaviour in pandemics.
I won’t deny that I was a bit embarrassed to be travelling while much of the world was confined. Of course, guilt is also inevitable if we have a conscience. But at the same time, I am a photographer and journalist, which is a necessary job, as long as the information can help a lot.