The Portuguese government announced Thursday that it will reintroduce nighttime curfews in municipalities where the rate of coronavirus cases has increased the most rapidly – including some of its tourist poles – as he struggles to cope with the spread of Delta variant.
During the last 14 days, the average number of daily cases in Portugal almost doubled to over 1,600, according to a New York Times database, although they remain well below their January peak of over 12,000 per day.
Scientists believe the Delta variant may be twice as transmissible as the original strain of the coronavirus. Most of the existing vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant, but experts say significantly higher vaccination rates and continued precautions are needed to tame the pandemic as newer variants spread. More than 55% of the Portuguese population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, compared to around 54% in the United States, according to Our world in data.
Curfews in Portugal are designed to discourage “risky behavior” and in particular gatherings of young people at night, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, the cabinet minister who presented the measures on Thursday. “Now is the time to follow the rules, avoid gatherings, avoid parties and try to contain the numbers,” she added.
The curfew will come into effect on Friday at 11 p.m. and will apply in 19 municipalities now classified at “very high risk” of Covid-19, and 26 others at “high risk”. Portugal reported nearly 2,500 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, the largest daily increase since February.
Among the 45 municipalities that will have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. include Lisbon, the capital, Porto, the second largest city, and Albufeira, a tourism hub in the southern Algarve region. Two weeks ago, the authorities locked up Lisbon for the weekend after the country recorded its highest number of new cases since March, with residents banned from traveling outside their home region.
The Algarve’s tourism industry – a seaside empire of villas, resorts and golf courses – was hoping for a return this summer. The region’s unemployment rate is stubbornly above 10 percent, compared to 7.1 percent for Portugal as a whole.
Coronavirus cases had dropped so dramatically that earlier this month Britain designated Portugal as a so-called green country, allowing its citizens to visit without having to self-quarantine upon their return. But the day after this announcement, London rocked Portugal by downgrading it from an approved vacation destination to potentially dangerous breeding ground for variants of the coronavirus.
The London decisions were particularly important because the British traditionally flocked to Portugal to rest from their often gloomy time and were even more eager to visit this year.
The switch travel rules prompted thousands of British tourists to Portugal to pay extra to book early return flights in order to exceed the quarantine deadline.
The decision came less than a week after thousands of English football fans traveled to Porto in northern Portugal to watch the Champions League final with no quarantine restrictions.