String of new Covid cases cause concern in Lisbon

By Cynthia de Benito

Azambuja, Portugal, May 29 (efe-epa).- “We’re worried, but we have to work.” It’s the mantra of many workers living on the outskirts of Lisbon, a new epicenter for Covid-19 which is bucking the otherwise downward trend of cases in Portugal.

Portuguese authorities are observing the resurgence of cases with concern, while the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the country is largely under control.

The government’s measures to tackle the spread have been praised internationally. There have been 1,379 deaths in a population of 10 million.

But the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley now account for 85 percent of new coronavirus cases, according to health officials.

News of the uptick poured cold water on recent progress, which was celebrated with trips to the beach and the reopening of restaurants as the lockdown was gradually eased.

The resurgence of Covid-19 has occurred close to the capital, with the neighborhoods of Sintra, Loures, Amadora and Cascais accounting for roughly 150 new cases and the rate of infection, according to experts, is higher than the national average.

The third and final easing of the lockdown is due to come into effect on 1 June but the government is now looking at varying the process at a regional level, according to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

What is happening in the Portuguese capital? Rebelo de Sousa has spoken of socio-economic factors.

This was a reference namely to workers who are not able to ply their trade remotely and must take public transport, which can be a fear-inducing endeavor.

“We’re worried, but we have to work,” one worker from the factory of food retail company Sonae MC, in Azambuja, some 40 kilometers from Lisbon, told Efe, without wanting to give their name.

Around 175 of 800 employees at the factory have tested positive for Covid-19.

After Avipronto, another food retail firm, Sonae MC has the most Covid-19 cases at the logistics center where it is based along with another 230 companies with a combined workforce of 8,500 people.

Many of them commute to the industrial complex by train.

When videos emerged last week of crowds of workers and news broke of a new uptick in cases, Sonae MC took measures.

Among them was to take the temperature of all its employees before entering the factory and stagger the shift pattern. It also put on a special bus service to avoid crowds on trains, according to a statement sent to Efe.

Just before the day’s work was due to begin at 8am, workers tried to maintain a social distance. No-one wants to give their name when speaking to journalists.

“Despite the fear, I like my job, I like coming here,” says one employee wearing the typical dark blue uniform used by workers at Sonae as he took the train back to Lisbon once the shift was over.

He adds that the problem was not with the company, but rather that the train to commute back and forth from work had been overcrowded.

“During the state of emergency there weren’t as many trains at morning rush hour, we all traveled in the same one at 7.40am to get there at 8am. No distancing, no surveillance. Now we are paying the price.”

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