New virus curbs spark fears for tourism in Portugal

by Thomas CABRAL
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People sit at a terrcae bar in downtown Lisbon -- a slew of new virus cases in and around the city have seen the Portuguese government impose new restrictions

Portugal reimposed restrictions in and around the capital Lisbon on Tuesday to check fresh coronavirus outbreaks, prompting fears the summer tourist season will take a major hit.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa had said Monday some coronavirus curbs would be reimposed in the Lisbon even if the country of 10 million people has limited casualties to some 1,500 deaths and some 40,000 cases to date.

The new measures came after official data showed 9,221 new COVID-19 cases detected, notably in the capital and the wider Lisbon region, between May 21 and June 21.

Among new measures being introduced Tuesday in a region of some 2.8 million people are restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people -- 20 in other areas -- while cafes and shops must close at 8pm in the capital.

"I prefer that rather than close completely," said Amandio Oliveira, owner of a kiosk with a terrace in the trendy Principe Real district.

"I hope tourists will come back in the end -- these new measures are bad for the economy," said the 66-year-old, wearing a plastic face visor.

With the virus still a threat he told AFP that "some people don't take care and it's the others who have to pay the penalty."

Portugal took restrictive measures fairly early in the pandemic, hence its comparatively low toll of deaths and cases.

But the past four weeks had seen more cases emerge there than in any other European country bar Sweden per 100,000 population, according to data compiled by AFP from local authorities.

- 'Serious situation' -

Portugal would normally at this time of year be receiving a welter of sun-seeking foreign visitors -- but this year is different, and the tourist sector is worried.

"With air ticket prices where they are now who is going to want to come here and find bars closed and then risk being placed in quarantine when they go home?" asked Miguel Barros, a 38-year-old who lost his job in the tourism industry as the health crisis took hold.

After receiving some good news with the announcement that Lisbon will host the final stages of the Champions League -- which the government took as a nod to its efforts to keep the virus well in check -- the new restrictions mean "a state of alarm has returned," Publico daily said in an editorial.

"The government has done its duty -- it has recognised the situation in the Lisbon region is serious and has taken measures to deal with it," Publico's director Manuel Carvalho nonetheless noted.

- Fines, stepped up surveillance -

As part of the new measures to fight the virus Costa's government last week adopted legislation stipulating police may fine those who organise or attend unauthorised public gatherings while health officials are to step up visits to people who have tested positive and who thus must stay at home.

Outside the Lisbon region, a state of emergency will be lifted Thursday. It will be extended in the greater Lisbon towns of Sintra, Odivelas, Loures and Amadora.

Like authorities in Portugal, those in Germany on Tuesday ordered fresh lockdowns in parts of western Germany over a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

The World Health Organization has warned that the pandemic is accelerating even as many countries in Europe and elsewhere ease lockdowns.

People sit at a terrcae bar in downtown Lisbon -- a slew of new virus cases in and around the city have seen the Portuguese government impose new restrictions

Outside the Lisbon region, deconfinement will be stepped up with a state of emergency being lifted Thursday