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Portuguese told to stay alert as Delta variant surges

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Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged the Portuguese to keep up their guard up against a fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, with the more infectious Delta variant causing nearly 90% of new cases.

The infection rate jumped after Portugal opened to visitors from the EU and Britain in mid-May, and is now back at levels last seen in February, when a lockdown was in force.

Now, most businesses have reopened and, as the summer tourist season kicks off, beaches are packed.

“We cannot get distracted or relax,” Costa said, urging people to maintain hygiene and social distancing.

Although only 38% of the population have so far been vaccinated, new cases are being reported mostly among unvaccinated younger people, and daily deaths have remained in single digits, well below February’s levels.

Nevertheless, a night-time curfew was put in place last week in 45 municipalities including Lisbon, Porto and Albufeira, and restaurants and non-food shops must close earlier at the weekend in some areas.

The national health institute said in a report that the Delta variant was now responsible for 89.1% of infections, with sharp rises in the north and on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores.

More than half the new cases reported on Tuesday were in the Lisbon conurbation.

Portugal is trying to accelerate its vaccination campaign, which opened up to under-30s on Monday.

Photo: A woman stands in Rossio square in Lisbon, Portugal. EPA-EFE/MARIO CRUZ

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