Portugal has tightened restrictions in and around Lisbon after recording thousands of new cases in recent weeks, writes Ashifa Kassam in Madrid.
From 21 May to 21 June, the country has documented more than 9,200 new cases – a rate per 100,000 inhabitants that ranks among the highest in Europe, behind only Sweden, according to data compiled by news agency AFP.
As the pandemic engulfed the EU, officials in Portugal were hailed for their swift response, with the decision to close schools and universities in mid-March and impose a lockdown credited with limiting the number of lives claimed to 1,540.
The latest outbreaks are contained within 15 neighbourhoods, António Costa, the prime minister, told a news conference earlier this week. For the 2.8 million people who live in these areas, gatherings are now restricted to 10 people while stores will close at 8pm. Restaurants will be allowed to remain open, though they are banned from serving drinks after 8pm.
Costa hinted at a link between the uptick in infections and reports of parties flouting the country’s ban on gatherings of more than 20 people. A recent beach party near Lisbon attracted some 1,000 revellers, while a birthday party in the southern Algarve attended by 100 people three weeks ago resulted in 76 new cases.
“We can’t allow the irresponsibility of a few to compromise all the hard work and sacrifices we’ve made to combat the pandemic,” said Costa, who earlier this month argued that new infections were to be expected as Portugal is testing more people than other EU countries.
In neighbouring Spain health officials are monitoring 12 outbreaks. Among the most serious is in the northeastern region of Aragon, where more than 70 new cases have prompted authorities to reimpose limits on public gatherings for the about 68,000 residents in the area.
Spain remains one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe with 28,325 lives claimed by the virus, according to data from the health ministry. The figure, however, only reflects those who tested positive for the virus, said Fernando Simón, the health official heading the country’s response to the outbreak.
“We know that the number of excess deaths recorded is higher – 12,000 or 13,000 more deaths – but there is no confirmation that they died because of the coronavirus,” Simón told a news conference last week. “Many likely did, but others may have died due to other causes.”