Lisbon scrambles to hold on to success story image amid new Covid outbreaks

By Cynthia de Benito

Lisbon, Jun 23 (efe-epa).- Portugal’s bid to hold onto the afterglow of its internationally-lauded coronavirus campaign has hit a stumbling block with a recent localized spike in infections just as the country readies its beaches for the return of tourism and its football grounds for the rescheduled Uefa Champions League.

Two-thirds of new daily cases can be found on the outskirts of the capital Lisbon and alarm bells rang when experts revealed that Portugal had Europe’s second-highest rate of infections per 100,000 people, behind only Sweden.

Its balance of just 1,540 deaths per 40,000 played a key role in convincing Uefa it was a safe location to host the Champions League, which is due to play-out in a condensed format in Lisbon — and Porto if necessary — this August. The final was originally due to be held in Istanbul.

In light of the situation, the government has revived the lockdown in the Lisbon metropolitan area, where almost everything aside from restaurants is due to close at 8pm and people will be limited to meeting up in maximum groups of 10.

The new outbreaks that have emerged since the national lockdown was eased on 4 May are concentrated in Lisbon and the satellite towns of Sintra, Odivelas, Amadora and Loures.

The area is home to roughly 1.4 million people and accounts for half of all infections detected in the country in the last two weeks.

The government of prime minister António Costa has attributed the recent spike in cases to increased mass testing in remarks that resulted in controversy when 17 countries decided to limit or block the entry of Portuguese nationals.

Some specialists suggested Portugal “was paying a price for being too honest.”

Miguel Guimarães, president of the Portuguese college of doctors told Efe: “This affirmation that there are more cases because there are more tests is a little out of context and is not socially responsible because it promotes a false sense of security.”

“It’s true that we are testing a lot, but we’re testing because we have cases.”

The number of cases in Lisbon has caused a stir elsewhere in the country, amid criticism that officials have been too slow to take action.

This was the case for Ovar, a town of about 55,000 people which was placed under quarantine by the government on 17 March after registering 30 infections and 440 suspected infections. 

“What are they waiting for? Did you only have the courage to close Ovar?” the mayor, Salvador Malheiro, said.

Others see unequal treatment in the national government’s response. Health experts in the Algarve have warned that the shortage of medical staff in the region could warrant a fresh lockdown after a recent illegal party was linked to over 100 cases.

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