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Businesses breathe sigh of relief as Spain, Portugal open border to tourism

Now the border is open to traffic including short trips and family visits. Most of Portugal downgraded to a "state of alert" on Wednesday, with gatherings still limited to 20 people, but restrictions remained stricter across Lisbon's suburbs as authorities tackle a worrying surge in coronavirus cases.

Reuters | Updated: 01-07-2020 15:42 IST | Created: 01-07-2020 15:42 IST
Businesses breathe sigh of relief as Spain, Portugal open border to tourism

Neighbours Spain and Portugal reopened their border on Wednesday to all travellers after a three-month closure to prevent the spread of coronavirus, bringing relief to local business owners who have struggled to make ends meet without tourism.

"It has been miserable since we reopened in May. There are no customers," Jose Valentim, a restaurant owner in the Portuguese border town of Elvas, told Reuters. "We hope that from today onwards some Spaniards will be able to come." In the presence of Spain's King Felipe and Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa, solemnly opened their 1,200-km (750 mile) border.

During a short ceremony in the Spanish city of Badajoz, with the flags of both countries behind them, the assembled leaders stood still as a small string orchestra played their respective national anthems. Residents applauded and shouted "Viva!" to celebrate the occasion.

All other travel restrictions within the European Union were lifted last week. "Our shared prosperity and common destiny within the European project depend on this border being open," Costa tweeted earlier on Wednesday. "The pandemic offered us a new vision of the past we do not want to come back to: a continent with closed borders."

The border had remained open to transport of goods and cross-border workers commercial traffic thoughout the epidemic, although they still had to go through checkpoints. But tourist and leisure travel had been restricted since mid-March. Now the border is open to traffic including short trips and family visits.

Most of Portugal downgraded to a "state of alert" on Wednesday, with gatherings still limited to 20 people, but restrictions remained stricter across Lisbon's suburbs as authorities tackle a worrying surge in coronavirus cases. Portugal has been hailed as a coronavirus success story but it now has the second highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe after Sweden in the past 30 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The country defends its considerable case toll by citing its high testing rate. With nearly 250,000 cases and more than 28,000 deaths Spain was worse hit, but authorities managed to bring the outbreak under control through one of the world's strictest lockdowns.

Its national state of emergency expired two weeks ago, permitting Spaniards to travel throughout the country.


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