By Cynthia de Benito
Lisbon, Jun 21 (efe-epa).- Portugal is counting down to a summer season in which it will host the final stages of the Uefa Champions League and try to salvage whatever it can of a tourism industry battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In just over 10 days the country will get its first flavor of what the summer has in store when on 1 July the airports recuperate activity and the country’s land border with neighboring Spain is reopened.
There is a lot at stake, not only in terms of public health but economically. Tourism has been one of the driving engines of the Portuguese economy in recent years but in the wake of the pandemic the sector faces choppy waters.
The Bank of Portugal has forecast a 60 percent drop in tourism spending this year thanks to a difficult summer. International tourists are not expected to return until August, and even then the number of entries will be staggered, according to predictions.
Something that is being heralded as a strategic coup is the country’s successful bid to play last-minute host to the re-formatted Champions League knockout stages and the final, which was originally slated to be played in Istanbul.
The competition will take place between 12-23 August. Authorities have yet to decide whether fans will be granted access to the stadiums, a move that would depend on the coronavirus situation in the Atlantic nation.
Other big attractions, such as the music festivals NOS Alive and Rock in Rio have been rescheduled for next year. Some other festivals will go ahead this summer, but the crowd numbers will be tightly controlled.
According to Lisbon’s mayor, Fernando Medina, securing the Champions League is “an important medium-term economic strategy for the city, the region and the country.”
Both the country’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and its prime minister, António Costa, insist that they can ensure a safe and secure environment for Europe’s biggest club football tournament, despite recent outbreaks in the country, especially around the capital.
The government says the new cases correspond to a boost in testing, although the country’s independent medical union has warned the government against “diluting” the data.
Others, such as the head of the national association of public health doctors Ricardo Mexia, say the infection figures are “concerning” and warned that the evolution of the outbreak would have to be further analysed to get a proper picture of the situation.
The Champions League could serve as a small life line in an otherwise difficult summer for the tourism sector, which accounts for 15 percent of the country’s annual GDP.
According to a report by Portugal’s tourism board, flight reservations from 15 different countries to Portugal dropped more than 90 percent for June while those for July dropped 80 percent compared to the previous year.
In a bid to limit any fresh coronavirus outbreaks, the government has banned lagr music festivals until 30 September although said small and tightly-controlled events could go ahead so long as health and safety protocol was upheld. EFE-EPA