Portugal’s government on Thursday announced that it would reintroduce nighttime curfews in municipalities where the coronavirus case rate has risen fastest — including some of its tourism hubs — as it struggles to cope with the spread of the Delta variant.
In the past 14 days, the average number of daily cases in Portugal has nearly doubled to over 1,600, according to a New York Times database, though they remain far 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 existing vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant, but experts say that markedly higher vaccination rates and continued precautions are needed to tame the pandemic as new variants spread. Over 55 percent of the Portuguese population has gotten at least one Covid vaccine dose, compared to about 54 percent in the United States, according to Our World In Data.
The curfews in Portugal are designed to discourage “risky behaviors” and particularly gatherings of younger people at night, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, the cabinet minister who presented the measures on Thursday. “This is a time to follow the rules, avoid gatherings, avoid parties, and seek to contain the numbers,” she added.
The curfew will come into force at 11 p.m. on Friday and will apply in 19 municipalities that are now ranked as having a “very elevated risk” of Covid-19, and a further 26 with an “elevated risk.” Portugal reported almost 2,500 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, which was the highest daily rise since February.
Among the 45 municipalities that will have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. are Lisbon, the capital; Porto, the second-largest city; and Albufeira, a tourism hub in the southern region of Algarve. Two weeks ago, authorities locked down Lisbon for the weekend after the country registered its highest number of new cases since March, with residents prohibited from traveling outside their home area.
The tourism industry in the Algarve — a seaside empire of villas, resorts and golf courses — had been hoping for a comeback this summer. The region’s unemployment rate sits above 10 percent, compared with 7.1 percent for Portugal as a whole.
Coronavirus cases had dropped so dramatically that earlier this month Britain designated Portugal a so-called green country, permitting its citizens to visit without having to quarantine on return. But the day after that announcement, London jolted Portugal by downgrading it from an approved holiday destination to a potentially dangerous breeding ground for coronavirus variants.
London’s decisions were especially significant because the British traditionally flock to Portugal as a respite from their often-dreary weather and were even more eager to visit this year.
The switch of travel rules prompted thousands of British tourists in Portugal to pay extra to rebook early return flights to beat a quarantine deadline.
The decision came less than a week after thousands of English soccer fans had visited Porto, in northern Portugal, to watch the final of the Champions League, with no quarantine restriction.