A last-minute decision to relax Covid-19 safety rules for Saturday’s Champions League final has angered locals as hundreds of English fans not wearing masks packed Porto’s riverside bars on Friday night.
European football’s governing body Uefa moved the final between English clubs Manchester City and Chelsea from Istanbul to Porto to allow fans to travel to the match under Covid-19 restrictions. Some Porto residents fear a spike in infections because of the highly contagious coronavirus variant spreading in parts of England after first being identified in India. Others are upset that foreign fans can go into the stadium but locals have been banned from attending matches for months.
“If they open [the stadiums] for the English, they should open [them] for all,” said Alexandre Magalhaes, walking through Porto, which was packed with fans.
Portugal’s government initially said English fans must fly in only on the day of the match, stay in a “bubble” and fly home straight after the game. But authorities dropped the requirement for fans to stay in bubbles on Thursday and lifted restrictions on movement. “If these [new rules] are true I will not comply with any more lockdowns,” one Twitter user wrote. Another wrote: “This is a shame for everyone who continues to comply with health rules.” Portugal imposed a lockdown in January after a surge in cases but rules have since been eased.
By mid-afternoon on Saturday, planes packed with excited supporters were touching down every five minutes at Porto’s airport. Around 40 flights from England were expected during the day.
“Hopefully that plane is bouncing on the way back,” said Manchester City fan Neal, who travelled to Porto with his father and will head back home in the early hours of Sunday on a charter flight. “It’s a great atmosphere.” Upon arrival, stewards directed fans from the two teams to opposite sides of the airport, where rows of buses waited to drive them to the city centre where fan zones were set up.
Before hopping on the bus, fans received a bright yellow bracelet to show they have tested negative for Covid-19. “We will enjoy the sunshine, the hospitality … we love this city,” said Chelsea fan Chris, who said he had received two doses of the vaccine.
Hundreds of maskless fans flooded the bars by Porto’s Douro river on Friday night, drinking beer and chanting team slogans as police officers kept a close eye on them. There were minor scuffles between the supporters. Although the fans breached coronavirus rules in place to reduce the risk of contagion, which make it compulsory to wear a mask in crowded areas, police officers on the ground did not enforce mask-wearing.
Police commander Paula Peneda told a news conference that authorities were expecting many English fans without a ticket in the city on Saturday but could not specify a number. Authorities said they could not stop fans moving around because British tourists are now allowed in and out of Portugal if they present a negative PCR test.
Metropolitan police superintendent Lysander Strong said two fan zones with a capacity for 6,000 people each – one for both teams – would be set up in the city. From 8am to 6pm, the fan zones will only be open to ticket holders who will then be transported to the stadium. The zones will then open to those without a ticket. Consumption of beer is allowed and all supporters must present a negative Covid-19 test to access the fan zones. “We encourage all English supporters here to contribute to an orderly environment,” Strong said.