Spain and Portugal face new limits despite vaccine success | Business
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Despite vaccination rates that make other governments envious, Spain and Portugal face the stark truth that with the new omicron variant rampant, these winter holidays will not be a period of unbridled joy.
Portugal announced a slew of new Christmas and New Years restrictions on Tuesday, making working from home compulsory and closing nightclubs and bars from Saturday evening. In addition, a negative test result must be presented to enter Portuguese cinemas, theaters, sporting events, weddings and baptisms until at least January 9.
Portugal will impose exceptional measures on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, including a negative test result for entering restaurants and public celebrations. And on New Year’s Eve, no more than 10 people can gather on the street, and the consumption of alcohol outside will be prohibited.
This is happening despite the fact that almost 87% of the Portuguese population is fully vaccinated, due to the omicron variant, which races across Europe.
Spain, too, had hoped for a festive and relaxed Christmas, as 80% of its population of 47 million was vaccinated – including 90% of those over 12 – and face masks are widely used.
But the incredibly rapid spread of the omicron variant is starting to put pressure on hospitals in Spain, even though experts agree that being vaccinated still greatly reduces the risk of becoming seriously ill.
Catalonia, home to the city of Barcelona to the northeast, is poised to become the first Spanish region to restore serious limitations and put the brakes on holiday cheer. One in four people hospitalized in Spain with COVID-19 is in Catalonia.
“We were all hoping to spend these Christmas holidays with our family and loved ones, but unfortunately we are not in this situation,” Catalan regional president Pere AragonÃ¨s said on Tuesday. âYou don’t have to look at the numbers. We all know people who are infected. “
Catalan health authorities have asked the courts to authorize a battery of measures, including a new nighttime curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., a limit of 10 people per social gathering, the closure of nightclubs and the capping of restaurants at 50. % of seats and shops, gymnasiums and theaters at 70% of their capacity. If approved, the rules would go into effect on Christmas Eve and last for 15 days, eliminating most New Years holidays.
“These measures are absolutely necessary,” said the regional health chief of Catalonia, Josep Argimon. “Infections have increased 100% over the past week.”
Spain is back in the high-risk zone with more than 600 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, more than double the cumulative cases observed before the winter holidays last year. The omicron strain has gone from 5% of new cases in Spain to 47% in one week.
Catalonia’s move comes a day before Prime Minister Pedro SÃ¡nchez video meets with the heads of Spain’s 17 regions to discuss new COVID-19 restrictions. Medical groups and experts are calling for more action to be taken.
“The increase in the diagnosis of new cases in health clinics and hospitals (…) may in the short and medium term lead to a further collapse of the health system,” said the Spanish association of pulmonologists last week. .
But it appears most parts of Spain are reluctant to go to Catalonia, which has nearly 30% of its intensive care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.
This has left many families to take charge of their health. So many Spaniards rely on self-testing that there is a dearth of self-administered COVID-19 antigen tests.
Madrid’s Official College of Pharmacy told The Associated Press that in November, demand for home test kits increased 500% in one month. Shipments always arrived in pharmacies, but they flew off the shelves.
Among those seeking COVID-19 test kits was Eulalia RodrÃguez. Her family were planning to welcome a relative from overseas for Christmas and she was having trouble finding the tests after inquiring at four different pharmacies in Madrid.
“It’s really disappointing,” said RodrÃguez. “At least they give you some peace of mind.”
Parra reported from Madrid. Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal contributed.
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