In an attempt to contain the spread of the Delta variant, the most transmissible strain of the novel coronavirus first identified in India, the Portuguese government has banned citizens from entering or leaving the Lisbon metropolitan area on weekends next.
Between 3 p.m. on Friday and 6 a.m. on Monday, no one can enter or leave the region, which currently concentrates more than 70% of new cases of Covid-19 in the country.
After several months of fighting the pandemic, Portugal is currently experiencing an increase in cases. This week, the country of 10 million people once again surpassed the threshold of one thousand new daily cases of the virus. Last Wednesday (16), there were 1,350 new infections in 24 hours, the highest figure since the end of February.
For many experts, the spread of the Delta variant may be linked to the growth of cases around the capital.
Announcing the restriction measures in Lisbon, the Minister of the Presidency, Mariana Vieira da Silva, made explicit reference to the presence of the strain, but said that it was still necessary to await official figures for epidemiological surveillance.
“Apparently there is a higher prevalence of the Delta variant in this territory and also in the Alentejo region,” he said. “It is difficult to explain and take these measures, but it is a condition which seemed fundamental to us at the present time in order not to extend the situation in Lisbon throughout the country”, he said. added.
Although official figures for the current presence of the variant have not yet been released, reports in the Portuguese press claim, citing sources linked to the investigation, that the Delta variant is already responsible for more than 50% of the case in the Lisbon region.
In the latest report, released on May 31, it was responsible for just 4.8% of cases nationwide.
Next week, the Portuguese capital is expected to be subject to further restrictions. In addition to not having advanced to the last stage of deconfinement, the city must be forced to take a step back on the plan, with stricter limitations on schedules and services, especially on weekends.
Lisbon has already crossed the red line set by the government, of 240 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days. Under the current rules, however, the restrictions only return if the bad result is repeated for two weeks.
Faced with the rapid development of cases, some experts have publicly demanded that the situation in the capital be reviewed before the deadline, which the government has denied.
Still with a rapid increase in cases, Sesimbra, another Portuguese municipality, chose not to wait for the deadline to review the status and, on purpose, decided not to go ahead with deconfinement.
Hospitals are already feeling the pressure, with an increase in hospital admissions and intensive care patients. Several establishments have returned to expand the supply of beds for the Covid-19.
“In practice, we are already in a fourth pandemic wave,” explains Carlos Antunes, professor at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon, in an interview with Diário de Notícias.
Still, experts call for caution and point out that the situation is still far from what it was at the start of 2021.
It was precisely because of concerns over this variant that the British government ended up removing Portugal from its green list in early June. As a result, a 14-day quarantine is again mandatory for anyone who has stayed in Portuguese territory.
On the other hand, although the UK also has a high prevalence of the Delta variant, Portugal has chosen to allow – only with a negative test for Covid-19 at the time of boarding – entry. of British tourists.
At the end of May, the country welcomed more than 12,000 travelers from the United Kingdom for the final of the Champions League in Porto. Although the government announced that fans would be in some sort of isolated bubble, the reality was much different.
Images of Brits crammed all over the country, without masks and drinking in the streets: anything that is forbidden to residents of Portugal.
Initially seen as a good example in managing the pandemic, Portugal saw the situation spiral out of control in January. The increased circulation of the Alpha variant, first identified in the UK, and the relaxation of overcrowding and traffic restrictions over the Christmas period have been an explosive cocktail for the country.
In January, the country exceeded the threshold of 15,000 cases, in 24 hours, of Covid-19. On the 15th of this month, Portugal returned to a state of emergency, with the establishment of a new containment, which lasted almost three months.
In an attempt to avoid a new confinement, the government is now trying to invest in testing capacities and in responses more suited to the regions.
The authorities are also trying to speed up vaccinations. Over 45% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 23.8% have a full immunization.
From March 2020 until now, Portugal has recorded 861,628 cases and 17,057 deaths from Covid-19.