Portugal to allow return to school despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases

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Portugal will allow students to return to school from next week and nightclubs to reopen on Jan. 14 despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases, with hospital admissions still well below levels seen earlier in the pandemic, the government said on Thursday.

“It is evident that the Omicron variant is less severe … vaccination has been effective against it,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference, referring to the fast-spreading variant that emerged in late 2021.

“That’s why we have a much lower number of hospitalisations, fewer people in ICU and deaths.”

The variant hit Portugal – one of the world’s most vaccinated nations, with 89% of its people fully inoculated – in November, leading to an increase in cases.

After hitting a daily record of nearly 40,000 infections on Wednesday, the number edged lower to 39,074 on Thursday, health authority DGS said.

It registered 25 fatalities, up from Wednesday’s 14, but only a fraction of the over 300 daily deaths in the previous peak of the pandemic in late January, when the vaccination campaign had just kicked off. Hospitals held 1,311 COVID-19 patients, compared with a peak of 6,869 on Feb. 1.

Portugal’s total death toll stands at 19,054 people.

From Monday, only coronavirus-infected people and those who live with them need to isolate, while those who have received a booster shot – about 3 million people – no longer need to do so.

Students can return to school on Monday but a work-from-home order, imposed around Christmas, will stay in place until Jan. 14, Costa said.

Nightclubs and bars can reopen on Jan. 14, but a negative test will be required to enter. A negative test will also continue to be requested from all air passengers travelling to Portugal.

The surge in cases comes three weeks before a snap general election on Jan. 30, and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Wednesday isolation rules could be eased or suspended on election day.

Photo – Personnel of the Military Police equipped with protective suits take part in a demonstration of a disinfection action at the Amadora Secondary School, in Amadora, Portugal. EPA-EFE/MIGUEL A. LOPES

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