Towels 1.5m apart and masks on the beach - what Brits can look forward to when holidaying in Portugal

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the strict rules Portuguese beaches will have this summer to ensure the safe return of tourism

However they classify the first day of summer, on the Algarve this year we know that it begins on Monday, May 17 - the day Britons are allowed to fly away on holiday.

Portugal moving onto the UK’s ‘green list’ and the expected lifting of Portugal's ban on non-essential travel from non-EU countries – both combined to provoke a surge of bookings so large the reservation systems of some hotels have been overwhelmed. Portugal, the Algarve in particular, has always been popular with British sun-seekers, but suddenly Portugal has become the only major destination open for business from the UK.

Israel is also on the green list, but has its own (non-Covid) issues right now.

The result is expected to be 1,500 arrivals on Monday alone, with 44,000 Brits likely to fly in before the end of May. And those predictions were made before the Champions League final was relocated to Portugal. For the Portuguese tourist industry, it is unequivocal good news, although not without its problems.

Hotels are struggling to process bookings and recruit enough staff.

Airports – almost deserted for more than a year, must not only get up to speed again but deal with the fact that British tourists must (since Brexit) now be stamped in and out with full customs and immigration checks. And, of course, they must ensure that a return of mass tourism doesn’t bring with it a return of mass Covid.

Beachgoers in the Algarve

So there will be strict rules on beaches governed by a traffic light system, detection devices deciding when the sands are too full for any more to set up their beach umbrellas, towels must be a 1.5 metres apart, separate groups three metres apart, and masks to be worn (on pain of a €100 fine) except when lying on a towel or in the water.

The Portuguese are completely aware that any rise in their infection figures could send the whole process rapidly into reverse, so nightclubs will remain closed, restaurants and bars open only until 10.30pm with groups of no more than six indoors, 10 outdoors.

Listen to the ITV News coronavirus podcast

They have kept these rules much tighter than their counterparts in southern Spain, where nightlife has resumed almost unrestricted, and believe that is why they are now opening and Spain is not. No one needs reminding that last summer was constantly disrupted by changes in travel rules, with people uncertain whether to book, to travel or to rush home early in order to beat a newly imposed quarantine order.

They believe that won’t happen again this year, because vaccines have changed the game. But they’re keeping their fingers crossed and watching infection rates nervously.