Portuguese PM responds to critics over Champions League fans

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Champions League - Fans in Porto ahead of the Champions League Final Manchester City v Chelsea

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal's government said on Monday authorities must learn from their mistakes after a decision to allow thousands of English soccer fans to party in the streets of Porto for Saturday's Champions League final prompted criticism from some lawmakers.

"Every day, unfortunately, there are people who do not respect the rules, but that doesn't mean the rules are illegitimate," Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters, admitting the event "didn't go perfectly".

"It is clear that what happened this weekend cannot serve as an example, it must serve as a lesson," Costa said, adding authorities must work to provide more information to tourists about measures they must adopt during their holidays.

Separately Portugal's Health Minister Marta Temido said: "I am sure that right now all Portuguese know that there is a set of rules that we have to continue to follow and others not complying with those rules should not be an alibi."

Earlier the government came under fire from some lawmakers for sending contradictory COVID-19 messages ahead of the match, in which Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0.

In the days leading up to Saturday's final, big crowds of English fans, largely maskless and not socially distancing, took over Porto's streets to drink and chant team slogans.

"The government and Porto's mayor should apologise to the Portuguese, who, deprived of so much, are watching this disgrace in the midst of fighting the pandemic," opposition leader Rui Rio wrote on Twitter.

However precautions were taken which meant all fans had to present a negative COVID-19 test on arrival in Portugal, which is on the British government's "green" list allowing tourists to visit without quarantining on their return.

ABSOLUTELY CONTRADICTORY

Portugal suffered a devastating COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year and masks are still mandatory outdoors if people cannot observe social distancing. Drinking in public places outside of licensed terraces remains prohibited.

Some 16,500 fans were allowed into the Dragao stadium, upsetting locals who have been banned from attending matches for months. Many other English fans travelled to the city to support their teams from the sidelines.

Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos, leader of Portugal's rightist CDS party, also criticised the government, saying it "adopted an absolutely contradictory and inconsistent approach".

"The way the Champions League final was organised gave a bad image of Portugal and will have unpredictable consequences on public health," he added.

Last week, a police source told Reuters authorities did not have enough time to fully prepare for the final as UEFA only announced it would move the event to Porto from Istanbul around two weeks ago.

Portuguese authorities decided to relax COVID-19 rules for the match last week, no longer requiring fans to stay in "bubbles" and lifting restrictions on movement.

"It is not understandable to allow an event (to take place) that is not allowed to the majority of the citizens of this country," said Left Bloc leader Catarina Martins.

Some health experts fear the Portuguese will be less willing to adopt coronavirus preventive measures.

Portugal's northern region health authority on Sunday asked all those who got close to any Champions League celebrations to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and reduce contact with others over the next 14 days.

(Reporting by Catarina DemonyEditing by James Mackenzie and David Holmes)