Here is your weekly news overview…
At Faro Airport, queues were a problem for some tourists at the weekend. On Saturday it was in queues in passport control, for travellers who do not belong to the Schengen area. On Sunday, it was the wait to do their Covid-19 tests at the airport, before travelling.
Passengers suffered long waits, some missing their flights, when queues at the two Covid testing stations at Faro Airport caused them not to have their negative test result in time to board their flight. For those who had planned ahead and were taking their test within 72 hours of their journey, returningto the airport on their day of travel rather than testing immediately before their flight, the wait was inconvenient but not as distressing.
There are more than 160 laboratories in the Algarve to carry out the Covd tests, this information is being passed on to many tourists.
The problem on Sunday was in the covid test zones, on Saturday, it was the queues registered in the passport control area. With almost 8,000 passengers arriving from outside the Schengen area, the passport control officers were unable to keep up with the demand, with only three control boxes and a fourth working intermittently between 16:00 and 17:00. Some people arriving waited nearly three hours to pass through passport control.
A group of member states is seeking to prolong EU funding for cross-border natural gas projects - contrary to the European Commission's plans to remove all support for such infrastructure, according to a draft document seen by EUobserver.
The so-called TEN-E regulation determines which energy cross-border infrastructure projects in the EU are eligible for public funds through the European Investment Bank - listed under the so-called "Projects of Common Interest" (PCI).
But Brussels proposed a revision of the TEN-E rules in December, excluding dedicated support for oil and gas infrastructure - in a bid to align a key piece of energy policy with the Green Deal and the EU's 2050 climate-neutrality goal.
However, some member states are challenging that position, under a proposal drafted by the Portuguese presidency - triggering outrage from green groups.
"Portugal is in the front line of decarbonisation. Therefore, it is not acceptable that our country, as EU presidency, supports continued natural gas investments, in stark contradiction with the EU's climate neutrality goals," said Francisco Ferreira, president of the Lisbon-based NGO ZERO.
The leaked proposal from the European Council, due to be discussed by EU ambassadors this week, proposes supporting projects until 2029 in which existing gas infrastructure is modified to mix hydrogen with natural gas.
This process, known as "blending", is considered one of the main sticking point of the discussion.
"If the blending happens this can lock investments in a mix of natural gas and fossil hydrogen for years. If the blending does not materialise then there is a lock-in on the modernised natural gas infrastructure," a EU diplomat told EUobserver, arguing that it is "a lose-lose scenario".
"There is a blocking minority against blending because of risks of market fragmentation and lock-in of natural gas," another EU diplomat said.
Meanwhile, the condition set out in the EU Commission proposal, that hydrogen must come from renewable sources, has also been expanded to include "low-carbon gases" - which could open the door for the fossil-fuel industry to lock in investment for years.
"This is absolutely a failure on behalf of the Portuguese presidency to reach a progressive deal with member states that is fit for the climate emergency the world is facing," said Tara Connolly from Global Witness.
"It seems their strategy, despite claiming to stand for real climate action, was to accept positions that satisfied the lowest common denominators, in order to get a deal at any cost," she added.
See original article in the https://euobserver.com/climate/151983
More than half of the 59 Portuguese reservoirs monitored had, at the end of May, above 80% of the total volume, while four had values below 40%, according to data from the National Water Resources Information System (SNIRH).
On the last day of May and compared to the last day of the previous month, there was an increase in the volume stored in five river basins and a decrease in seven.
The Ribeiras do Barlavento basin was the one with the lowest water availability at the end of May, with 31.7%, followed by Mira (49.3%).
According to SNIRH data, the Mondego (89.3%), Tejo (87.7%), Guadiana (86.6%), Douro (83.7%), Cávado and Ave (81.3%) basins, West (79.5%), Arade (72.8%), Lima (70%) and Sado (68%) had the highest levels of storage at the end of May.
The May 2021 storages by watershed are higher than the May storage averages (1990/91 to 2019/20), except for the Lima, Mondego, Mira and Ribeiras do Algarve basins.
Each hydrographic basin can correspond to more than one reservoir.
As the fifteen burly GNR looked on impassively, the eclectic mix of 300 or so concerned citizens, made their feelings clear outside the Assembleia da Republica in Lisbon last Tuesday.
It was a feeling of anger, of despair and of loss – but also, positively, one of hope, hope that their Government would change the policy of aiding foreign companies to destroy the lives and livelihoods of their own citizens.
What could be more right – or more innocent? Despite the heavy police presence little disturbance was anticipated and the demonstration passed off peacefully enough, if a little noisily.
There were drums, whistles, dances and speeches, but above all there was a high level of “feeling” from the mix of people from all ages and walks of life who had been able to make the effort to attend the demonstration.
It was a demonstration against the intensive agriculture that has, with no licenses or permissions, invaded what is still described as a “Natural Park” but which is now a Natural Park in name only.
Sadly, this once beautiful and sought-after corner of Europe has been invaded over the last twenty years by an industrial behemoth and has descended into an environmentalist’s nightmare, a sea of plastic greenhouses which are sucking the land dry of its vital water resources – to the extent that the local population is now having its water rights curtailed, if not cut entirely. Sucking the land dry and sucking too the livelihoods of the people of the area.
While this industry is allocated 90% of the only reservoir that feeds this corner of southwest Europe, the Barragem de Santa Clara, the local population is forced to make do with the remaining 10% - and even this is now being restricted.
With a warming and ever-dryer climate affecting the region, the unregulated proliferation of plastic greenhouses is concerning many who see their taxes being given to foreign-based concerns, while the local population faces an increasingly difficult struggle to survive.
The pandemic hasn’t helped at all of course - apart from in one area; it has shone a spotlight on the disgraceful policy that has been the official line over the last ten years.
In 2019, the last year for which data is available, the Government gave the intensive agriculture industry of the area tax-breaks of €500,000. These tax breaks were given to the Greenhouse Gangsters whose only aim is to make as large and as quick a profit as they can before moving on, but while they have been given this aid from our Government, no such assistance has been offered to the local population who have their homes and businesses here, who till the land their ancestors toiled to make, who hope to pass this land on to their grandchildren.
Added to this, the lackadaisical protection accorded to this Natural Park by the Portuguese Government has been a green light for the rape of this once pristine countryside - and this green light is still shining brightly for the plastic polluters following the Government’s decision to allow the 1,200 hectares of plastic greenhouse to triple in size over the coming years.
No thought has apparently been given to the ecological sustainability of this decision, and local feeling is running increasingly high, as even a cursory glance at the situation shows the policy to be unsustainable in the long run, a long run that is now staring us squarely in the face.
For unsustainable it is and the local population is already feeling the pinch, even before any further expansion.
Since the industry moved into the area in force at the end of the first decade of this century, the life-blood of the area has been slowly, but with ever increasing speed, drained away.
With no rivers that run throughout the year, the only reserve of water is the rain-fed Santa Clara Barragem, but in only one year in the last ten has the water level there been higher than the year before - and as the hot weather starts for this year this reserve has never been lower.
In 2021 less than half this precious resource is available as compared to 2011, a truly horrifying statistic when one considers that the government sees no harm in allowing this intensive agriculture to triple in size.
This alarming situation is best understood in a small Instagram video that has gone viral with 12,000 views over the last couple of weeks, and the maker, Frank McClintock, who has lived on the lakeshore for the last 35 years is under no illusions as to what is taking place before his eyes, and has undertaken to post a new one every couple of weeks to show what is really happening.
His latest, filmed last weekend, showed that in the intervening two weeks the level had already dropped 26 cms, approximately 2 cms per day, a clearly unsustainable amount considering that we are still experiencing cooler Spring weather and the heat of July is still a month away.
“Whereas ten years ago the lake would still be filling during May, this year the level is already falling, and that’s after what everyone says was, “a wet winter”. It might have been a wetter winter than we’ve had recently, but it’s not the wet winters that were habitually experienced fifty years ago, and with less rain every year and an increased demand for water, the situation is becoming worse with every passing day”.
The underlying problem of course is that the water necessary for this area was calculated seventy years ago when intensive agriculture of the sort now being practiced was unheard of. It was designed to furnish local farmers with the water necessary for a way of life that has now all but vanished, and is quite unfit for the demands now being made of it.
However, this is only one half of the problem.
The other, is this Government’s open, grasping hands where big business is concerned and their closed eyes and averted faces to the concerns and well-being of their own citizens.
There is something fundamentally wrong when the Government values foreign-owned companies, who pay little if any tax in this country, over their own countrymen – and this is what is fueling the high feelings shown at the demonstration in Lisbon, and the demands for change that are being increasingly voiced throughout the southwestern Alentejo.
Portugal will leave the British Government "green list" of international travel, due to the discovery of new variants and the increase in the number of infections in recent weeks, confirmed Transport Minister Grant Shapps.
The British minister said today, in an interview broadcast on Sky News, that it was a "difficult decision to make", citing two main reasons that are causing concern among British authorities.
"One is that the positivity rate has almost doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is that there is a kind of Nepalese mutation of the so-called Indian variant that has been detected and we simply don't know the potential it might have to resist the vaccine." he explained.
Shapps said the government wants to ensure that the country does not import any more variants that jeopardize the decontamination plan, namely the fourth stage scheduled for June 21st, when all restrictions are expected to be lifted.
The new 'amber list' measure will take effect from 4:00 am on Tuesday, June 8th.
Countries on the “amber list” are subject to tighter restrictions, namely a 10-day quarantine on arrival in the UK and two PCR tests on the second and eighth day, as is already the case with most European countries, such as Spain, France and Greece.
Portugal was so far the only country in the European Union (EU) on the “green list”, which exempts travellers from quarantine on return to British territory, in force since 17th May.
This morning, the president of the Algarve Tourism Region (RTA) had said that, going forward, the measure would have “a very significant impact on the Algarve”.
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the official opening of the bathing season in Lagos, João Fernandes noted: "We had a very robust and growing demand for the coming weeks, from the British market, with flights increasing their capacity, with reservations in the hotels consolidating since 17th May", the date on which Portugal (Algarve included) had been placed on the British green list.
This decision by the United Kingdom today announced "obviously" that it will be "a severe setback" for tourism, namely hotels, restaurants and all economic activities related to the sector, in the Algarve region.
This morning, when the British decision was still unknown, the head of Tourism in the Algarve had some hope, revealing that “the ECDC [European Center for Disease Control and Prevention] data has just come out, placing us among the three countries of the Europe with least incidence in the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants".
In view of these data, there was, in his opinion, "no reason for this risk review by the British" to remove our country from the list of safe countries to travel. But that was not the decision of the UK Government.
The president of Turismo do Algarve, João Fernandes, today classified the decision of the United Kingdom to remove Portugal from the “green list” of travel as “political”, meaning quarantine for those who arrive in British territory from Tuesday 8th June.
“It is a decision that the British Government took as a matter of internal policy and not as a matter of risk”, he said, stressing that the justification given by the UK authorities “does not use Portugal as a reference” for covid-19 infections, and even Malta, “which has an incidence of nine cases per 100,000 inhabitants, was left out” of the “green list”.
João Fernandes acknowledged that the British decision “has a clear impact on the region”, as the United Kingdom is the “main source market” of tourists to the Algarve, and regretted the “embarrassment” that the measure causes, “from the outset for those who are already here and are scheduled to return after Tuesday, which is the day from which this measure takes effect”.
“We are already witnessing a concentration of repatriation flights and a cancellation of flights for the subsequent period, and of hotel reservations as well. We hope that this measure is reviewed as soon as possible, because it is completely unfair”, he said.
João Fernandes also said that the Algarve had “100,000 passengers arrive, of British origin, during the last two weeks” and that, according to data provided by the Regional Health Administration among British passengers, “there were only a six cases recorded – and all of them are tested”.
“Six cases per 100,000 inhabitants is a much lower number than that registered in the United Kingdom itself, not least because the British, before travelling to Portugal, have to take a PCR [test]”, he added.
Now, he said, the region must “look forward and continue to bet on other markets that are in good demand in the Algarve, such as the German, French, Irish Spanish, Dutch markets”, which are “recognising Portugal as a safe destination and the best beach destination in the world, according to the latest recognition from the World Travel Awards”.
The representative considers that Portugal can return to the "green list" in the next re-evaluation of the British Government, within about three weeks.
"Even clearly being a political decision, the British Government aim to conclude their deconfinement process by June 21st, so it makes sense that this review will be favourable to an opening to several countries, including Portugal", he argued.
João Fernandes also gave a warning to British tourists who "are now returning in a hurry", that they must carry out a Covid test before travel, using the approximately 130 covid-19 testing sites identified on the website www.visitalgarve.pt, and to make sure they are aware of the controls in place to enter UK.
The decision to withdraw Portugal from the “green list” comes just three weeks after the British Government took a decision in the opposite direction, creating positive expectations in the Algarve and national tourism, which have now been dashed.
More news next week!
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