Travel in and out of the Lisbon metropolitan area is to be banned over coming weekends as Portuguese authorities respond to a spike in new COVID-19 cases in the region around the capital, officials announced Thursday.
The ban in the area where some 2.8 million people live comes into effect from 3 p.m. on Friday, cabinet spokeswoman Mariana Vieira da Silva said, in an effort to contain the surge.
“We’re aware [the travel ban] isn’t easy and that it’s not what people want, but we feel it’s necessary to protect the rest of the country,” she told a press conference.
The travel restrictions are open-ended, pending periodic reviews. Flights out of Lisbon airport are exempt from the ban, as are work-related journeys. Police control points will check travelers.
Portugal is witnessing a spike in new daily cases not seen since February. Authorities reported that 804 of the 1,233 new cases detected on Thursday were in the Lisbon region.
Experts believe there is community transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant in the Lisbon region.
The region this week crossed the red line established by authorities of a 14-day cumulative case notification rate per 100,000 people of 240. On Thursday, Lisbon’s notification rate was 254. The national rate was 90.
While public hospitals are not yet under pressure, some of them are readying for more COVID-19 admissions. Doctors have warned the changes could bring new delays for regular health appointments, adding to a backlog that has built up over the past 15 months.
Lisbon City Council announced Thursday it will open vaccination centers seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., from July 1 in an effort to speed up inoculations.
Also Thursday, the General Directorate for Health said it was cutting the period between taking the two AstraZeneca vaccine doses from 12 to 8 weeks amid the emergence of “worrying variants.”
Portugal, a country of 10.3 million, has inoculated 42 percent of its population with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 25 percent have had both jabs.
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Barry Hatton British foreign correspondent in Lisbon since 1986. Author of The Portuguese: A Modern History (2011) and Queen of the Sea: A History of Lisbon (July 2018).