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Spain, Portugal frustrated by shifting virus travel policies

Spain, Portugal frustrated by shifting virus travel policies

Spain’s top diplomat is pushing back against French cautions over vacationing in the Iberian peninsulaBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 3:03 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — Spain’s top diplomat pushed back Friday against French cautions over vacationing in the Iberian peninsula, as southern Europe’s holiday hotspots worry that repeated changes to rules on who can visit is putting people off travel.On Thursday, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clément Beaune, advised people to “avoid Spain and Portugal as destinations” when booking their holidays because the French government is considering restrictions on travel to the Iberian neighbors, where COVID-19 infections are surging.Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the current surge is not translating into more hospitalizations and urged people to be “proportionate” in their response to pandemic trends.“This is a time for prudence, not for panicking,” she said at a press conference in Madrid. “There is no reason at the moment to ask people to cancel their vacations.”Visiting French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian urged people to have a COVID-19 jab before travelling.“The vaccine is the door to Spain,” he said.Millions of tourists arriving every year in Spain and Portugal are crucial for the Iberian countries’ economies and jobs. Both hope tourism will help drive an economic recovery after the pandemic.French tourists staying away would be a major blow.For Iberian tourism businesses, last year was mostly a washout due to COVID-19 lockdowns and local and international travel restrictions.This year is turning out to be a wild ride, as rules have flip-flopped amid efforts to resume leisure travel.Germany on Friday labelled the whole of Spain as a “risk area,” potentially discouraging travel there.Portugal has also been clobbered by changing rules.Last month, Portuguese companies cheered when the country was placed on the U.K.’s “green list,” permitting British tourists to skip quarantine when returning home. Three weeks later, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, Portugal was axed from the list and the British market dried up.There are hopes this could change again after July 19, when the British government scraps the requirement for people going abroad to quarantine, as long as they are fully vaccinated.Germany this week eased its recent strict restrictions on travel to Portugal, which had disheartened the Portuguese tourism sector. Now, a negative test is enough for Germans returning from holiday to avoid quarantining.“Everyone keeps chopping and changing their rules,” Eliderico Viegas, head of Portugal’s Algarve Hotel and Resort Association, a representative body, said. “France, and before it Germany, are good examples of that.”Portugal, like Spain, was expecting this summer to be less bad than last year. The French minister’s comments have changed that outlook, according to Viegas.“There’s no doubt that demand will fall now,” he told the Associated Press.

Europe in vaccination race against COVID-19's delta variant

LISBON, Portugal — Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holidays, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Social distancing is being neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.The risk of infection from the delta variant is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control, which monitors 30 countries on the continent. It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90% of cases in the European Union’s 27 nations.“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace,” the ECDC warned.The World Health Organization is also concerned. The variant makes transmission growth “exponential,” according to Maria Van Kerkhove, its technical lead on COVID-19.Daily new case numbers are already climbing sharply in countries like the United Kingdom, Portugal and Russia.In the U.K., cases of the delta variant have increased fourfold in less than a month, with confirmed cases Friday up 46% on the previous week.Portuguese health authorities this week reported a “vertiginous” rise in the delta variant, which accounted for only 4% of cases in May but almost 56% in June. The country is reporting its highest number of daily cases since February, and the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has surpassed 500 for the first time since early April.Reports of new infections in Russia more than doubled in June, topping 20,000 per day this week, and new deaths hit 697 on Saturday, the fifth day in a row that the daily death toll set a record.Still, “no one wants any lockdowns,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov at a briefing, although he admitted that the virus situation in a number of Russian regions is “tense.”In some countries, the virus is spreading much faster among younger people. In Spain, the national 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people rose to 152 on Friday. But for the 20-29 age group, it shot up to 449.Those numbers have triggered alarm across the continent.The Dutch government is extending its vaccination program to those aged 12-17 to help head off a feared new surge. Greece is offering young adults 150 euros ($177) in credit after their first jab. Rome authorities are mulling the use of vans to vaccinate people at the beach. And Poland last week launched a lottery open only to adults who are fully vaccinated, with new cars among the prizes.Portuguese authorities have extended the hours of vaccination centers, created new walk-in clinics, called up the armed forces to help run vaccination operations, and reduced the period between taking the two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from 12 weeks to eight weeks.“We’re in a race against the clock,” Cabinet Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said.In the fight against vaccine hesitancy across Europe, the appearance of variants has fed public uncertainty about how effective the shots are. In Madrid this week, Claudia Aguilar, a 58-year-old archaeologist, got her second Pfizer-BioNTech jab at an auditorium that is expanding its working hours overnight.Nevertheless, she said she is “not sure I’ll really be immune” against future variants.“I mean, I’m a bit skeptical that this is going to do any good,” Aguilar said.Bartender Yevgeniya Chernyshkova lined up for a shot at Moscow’s GUM department store just off Red Square after the Russian government required vaccinations for workers in some sectors.“Now, it’s becoming mandatory and we all understand why — because the third wave of the pandemic has started here,” she said.Fifteen months after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, some governments appear more open to rewarding public patience than thinking about bringing back restrictions.Some 40,000 fans went to England’s European Championship soccer match against Germany at London’s Wembley Stadium last week. In Portugal, new restrictions have been half-hearted, such as limiting restaurant opening hours on weekend nights.In Moscow, however, restaurants, bars and cafes on Monday began admitting only customers who have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months or can provide a negative test in the previous 72 hours.France lifted the last of its major restrictions Wednesday, allowing unlimited crowds in restaurants, at weddings and most cultural events despite fast-rising cases of the delta variant.Tiago Correia, an associate professor at Lisbon’s Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, detects a mood of public impatience, especially among young people keen to enjoy warm summer nights.“People want to return to normal more quickly than the vaccination rollout is happening,” he said.The emerging variants have shone a light on the unprecedented scale of the immunization programs. The ECDC says in the countries it surveys, 61% of people over 18 have had one shot and 40% are completely vaccinated.But Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s Europe office, cautioned this week that the delta variant is poised to become dominant by August in the 53-country region his office covers. And he notes that 63% of people in that region haven’t had a first jab.“The three conditions for a new wave of excess hospitalizations and deaths before the (fall) are therefore in place: New variants, deficit in vaccine uptake, increased social mixing,” Kluge said.————Among Associated Press writers across Europe who contributed are Aritz Parra in Madrid, Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Jamey Keaten in Geneva.—-Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/hub/understanding-the-outbreak

Portugal limits UK travel, stops classes amid virus surge

Portugal limits UK travel, stops classes amid virus surge

Portugal’s battle to contain the surging COVID-19 delta variant has led it to put the United Kingdom on its red list for travel and cancel school classes in the southern Algarve region, its main tourist attractionBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJune 28, 2021, 2:36 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s battle to contain the surging COVID-19 delta variant has prompted it to put the United Kingdom on its red list for travel, speed up vaccinations in Lisbon and cancel school classes in the southern Algarve region, its main tourist destination.Portugal has in recent days been reporting the highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since February. Though hospitals are comfortably coping with new virus admissions, officials say the increase of about 30% over the past week was a worrying trend.On Monday, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital surpassed 500 for the first time since early April.The country’s 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 people, meanwhile, rose to 162 — the highest officially recorded since early March.Lisbon, the capital, is one of Portugal’s hot spots, with a case rate of 438. The city council said Monday it will extend the opening hours of vaccine centers, with people over 50 allowed to walk in without an appointment. Already last week, Lisbon doubled the number of jabs being administered over seven days, with more than 46,000. The next goal is 65,000 a week.Also, British travelers who aren’t vaccinated must quarantine for two weeks after arriving in Portugal, the Portuguese government announced Monday. The delta variant is believed to account for almost all of the United Kingdom’s new COVID-19 cases.British arrivals can quarantine at their home or in a place stipulated by Portuguese health authorities. Arrivals from Brazil, India and South Africa come under the same rule.All those entering Portugal must show either the European Union’s COVID Digital Certificate or a negative PCR test.Health authorities in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, known for its numerous beaches and sunny weather, canceled in-person classes for children up to 16 years old in a bid to break transmission chains in five towns, including the well-known vacation spots Albufeira and Faro.Thousands of British tourists visited the Algarve earlier this month when the British government briefly allowed easier travel to Portugal.The Algarve Regional Health Authority said classes would stop Monday for at least 12 days. It didn’t say how many students would be affected.Albufeira’s 14-day COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 people stands at 583, it said.Portugal was the worst-hit country in the world, in terms of weekly infections, in January. But an extended lockdown contained the spread.Since the pandemic began, Portugal has officially recorded around 870,000 cases of COVID-19 and about 17,000 deaths.———Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Portugal limits UK travel, stops classes amid virus surge

Portugal limits UK travel, stops classes amid virus surge

Portugal’s battle to contain the surging COVID-19 delta variant has led it to put the United Kingdom on its red list for travel and cancel school classes in the southern Algarve region, its main tourist attractionBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJune 28, 2021, 2:36 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s battle to contain the surging COVID-19 delta variant has prompted it to put the United Kingdom on its red list for travel, speed up vaccinations in Lisbon and cancel school classes in the southern Algarve region, its main tourist destination.Portugal has in recent days been reporting the highest number of daily new coronavirus cases since February. Though hospitals are comfortably coping with new virus admissions, officials say the increase of about 30% over the past week was a worrying trend.On Monday, the number of coronavirus patients in hospital surpassed 500 for the first time since early April.The country’s 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 people, meanwhile, rose to 162 — the highest officially recorded since early March.Lisbon, the capital, is one of Portugal’s hot spots, with a case rate of 438. The city council said Monday it will extend the opening hours of vaccine centers, with people over 50 allowed to walk in without an appointment. Already last week, Lisbon doubled the number of jabs being administered over seven days, with more than 46,000. The next goal is 65,000 a week.Also, British travelers who aren’t vaccinated must quarantine for two weeks after arriving in Portugal, the Portuguese government announced Monday. The delta variant is believed to account for almost all of the United Kingdom’s new COVID-19 cases.British arrivals can quarantine at their home or in a place stipulated by Portuguese health authorities. Arrivals from Brazil, India and South Africa come under the same rule.All those entering Portugal must show either the European Union’s COVID Digital Certificate or a negative PCR test.Health authorities in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, known for its numerous beaches and sunny weather, canceled in-person classes for children up to 16 years old in a bid to break transmission chains in five towns, including the well-known vacation spots Albufeira and Faro.Thousands of British tourists visited the Algarve earlier this month when the British government briefly allowed easier travel to Portugal.The Algarve Regional Health Authority said classes would stop Monday for at least 12 days. It didn’t say how many students would be affected.Albufeira’s 14-day COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 people stands at 583, it said.Portugal was the worst-hit country in the world, in terms of weekly infections, in January. But an extended lockdown contained the spread.Since the pandemic began, Portugal has officially recorded around 870,000 cases of COVID-19 and about 17,000 deaths.———Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Portugal in reverse as delta variant grips Lisbon, cases up

Portugal in reverse as delta variant grips Lisbon, cases up

Two months after Portugal began to ease a prolonged lockdown, the Lisbon region is going into reverse due to a surge driven by the coronavirus’ delta variant, which now accounts for more than 7 in 10 new infections in the capitalBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJune 24, 2021, 4:04 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — Two months after Portugal began to ease a prolonged lockdown, the Lisbon region is going into reverse due to a surge driven by the coronavirus’ delta variant, which now accounts for more than 7 in 10 new infections in the capital.The country reported 1,556 new infections Thursday — the highest number since Feb. 20. Just over 1,000 of them were in the Lisbon region. Officials say hospital admissions are increasing at a “worrying” level.Prime Minister António Costa warned that the problem isn’t just in Portugal: Experts predict the delta variant, which originated in India, will account for 90% of new infections across Europe by the end of August, he said Thursday.The Lisbon region, where some 2.8 million people live, will go back to a 3.30 p.m. closing time for restaurants and cafes at weekends, with limits on how many customers can be served. Among other restrictions, wedding and baptism venues will be allowed to fill only 25% of their capacity, down from the current 50%.Travel into and out of Lisbon will not permitted at weekends.Though hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients remain manageable, the trend is “worrying,” Cabinet Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva told a press conference.She said the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care went up by 30% and 26% over the past week, respectively.“The situation is getting worse,” she said. “We expect the number of new cases to keep going up in coming weeks.”Vieira da Silva noted that some 700,000 people aged over 60 have not yet had their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Portugal is administering around 320,000 jabs a week, “but it’s a race against time,” she said.Portugal was the worst-hit country in the world, in terms of weekly infections, in January. But an extended lockdown contained the spread.Since the pandemic began, Portugal has officially recorded around 869,000 cases of COVID-19 and some 17,000 deaths.———Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Lisbon drives virus surge as Portugal is chided for failings

Lisbon drives virus surge as Portugal is chided for failings

The Lisbon region’s surge in COVID-19 cases is powering ahead, with new infections pushing Portugal’s daily new cases to a four-month highBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJune 23, 2021, 6:28 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — The Lisbon region’s surge in COVID-19 cases is powering ahead, with new infections pushing Portugal’s daily new cases to a four-month high as a report by health experts finds fault with the government’s pandemic response.Portugal on Wednesday reported almost 1,500 new cases, two-thirds of them in the capital region where 2.8 million people live. Three people died in Portugal of COVID-19 over 24 hours.The national 14-day cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people has risen to 130 — over double what it was three weeks ago.The pressure on hospitals remains manageable, with 437 virus patients admitted and 100 in intensive care. The Portuguese government has already banned travel into and out of the Lisbon region on weekends, though policing last weekend was patchy.Experts blame the delta variant for Lisbon’s virus spread, estimating it accounts for more than 70% of cases. The government is widely expected to announce new restrictions for Lisbon after a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.To step up the pace of vaccinations, authorities on Wednesday reopened an inoculation center at Lisbon University’s sports stadium that is being operated by the Portuguese armed forces. Beginning Monday, a walk-in vaccination center will open in the capital’s riverside neighborhood of Alcântara.Meanwhile, the head of the national vaccination task force said he hopes to hit the target of 70% of the population inoculated by the third week of August.That is later than the initial plan, which was to reach the goal in early summer, but Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo said Portugal is receiving fewer vaccine doses than the 130,000 jabs a day it can administer.Also Wednesday, a report by health experts into Portugal’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic warned that the country is not learning from what happened over the past 15 months. The report said there was “a worrying absence of drawing conclusions from what went wrong.”The report for the Portuguese Observatory of Health Systems, which groups current and former public health chiefs, said it was good that the country’s main political parties stood together and that the Portuguese mostly complied with the rules on social distancing and mask-wearing.But it said politicians pressured health experts to give them recommendations that were more politically “convenient” and that the National Council for Public Health was barely used and is severely underfunded. Also, it said, authorities have not activated two specialist units to improve the country’s pandemic response.“We are not learning through this experience what we need to do better in the future,” the report said.———

Lisbon ringed off at weekends as Portugal fights virus surge

Lisbon ringed off at weekends as Portugal fights virus surge

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 capitalBy BARRY HATTON Associated PressJune 17, 2021, 4:02 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLISBON, Portugal — 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 eight weeks amid the emergence of “worrying variants.”Portugal, a country of 10.3 million, has inoculated 42% of its population with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 25% have had both jabs.———Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic , https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak