Localized COVID-19 outbreaks threaten Portugal's safe travel image

LISBON (Reuters) - A persistent several hundred new coronavirus cases per day and a growing outbreak after a party in the Algarve region are threatening Portugal’s image as a safe holiday destination and several EU nations are also limiting entry for Portuguese visitors.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wait their flights at Lisbon's airport during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

The new cases do not mean Portugal is unsafe, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, arguing that because it has a higher rate of testing than most EU members, more cases are revealed.

Portugal ranks sixth in Europe in its testing rate, at 98,700 per million inhabitants and its number of coronavirus deaths and infections are far lower than in neighboring Spain, even considering its smaller population.

Denmark said on Thursday it would not allow entry to travelers from Portugal despite opening up to most other European nations from June 27. Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Lithuania have placed conditions on re-entry of travelers from Portugal such as quarantine, testing and self-isolation.

“Naturally, if the current situation doesn’t change, Portugal reserves the right to apply the principle of reciprocity,” the ministry said in a statement.

Portugal has reported 38,089 coronavirus cases and 1,524 deaths. But the number of new cases per day has remained at several hundred for the past month with around 80% in Greater Lisbon, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

A total of 69 new cases have been confirmed in and around Lagos, a tourist town in the Algarve, traced back to a birthday party in the area attended by up to 100 people a fortnight ago.

Gatherings remain limited to 20 people by law, but many more came in and out of the event and police were called to break it up, according to the local council.

Thousands of people are being tested in relation to the party, including attendees, their colleagues and families, and municipal workers, with full results expected later on Friday.

A widespread outbreak could spell disaster for the tourism-dependent Algarve, where unemployment has more than doubled in April compared to the same period last year, according to government data.

Reporting by Victoria Waldersee and Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Frances Kerry