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LISBON— The stadiums are once again packed in this soccer-crazed capital of a soccer-crazed country. Portugal, which was decimated by the Delta strain of the coronavirus earlier this year, now has the highest Covid-19 immunization rate in Europe and provides an example of a country grappling with what is increasingly looking like an endemic virus.
Thousands of shouting soccer fans jammed into the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on Wednesday to witness Benfica take on Bayern Munich. They gathered on the subway to the stadium, at the entry while authorities patted them down, and after the game at food trucks, where they ate sandwiches and drank beer while attempting to forget about their team’s humiliation.
The authorities recently loosened a 30 percent stadium capacity restriction established to keep Covid-19 under control. However, things haven’t back to normal: fans must provide a certificate indicating that they have been vaccinated, have just recovered from the sickness, or have tested negative. Masks are required in all stadiums.
According to the Portuguese government, almost all adults over the age of 50 have received at least one vaccination dosage. It is 95 percent for individuals aged 25 to 49, and 88 percent for those aged 12 to 17. According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data, 89 percent of Portugal’s 10 million people has received at least one vaccination dosage, not far behind the world-leading United Arab Emirates, compared to 65 percent in the United States and 73 percent in the United Kingdom.
Although Portugal abandoned most of its Covid-containment measures on Oct. 1, life in Lisbon resembles that of the pandemic’s worst days in many respects. Even though it is no longer required, hand pumps delivering disinfection gel are widespread, and some churches still rope off seats to guarantee social separation. Large gatherings need the Covid-19 certificate, and masks are still required on public transit, in schools for pupils aged 10 and above, and for personnel in stores, restaurants, and bars.
On October 1, Portugal lifted the majority of its coronavirus restrictions.
On the metro and other forms of public transit in Lisbon, masks are still required.
Subways are overcrowded at the same time. The rickshaw taxis of Lisbon, also known as tuk-tuks in Thailand, transport visitors through the city’s old town’s tiny alleyways. Throughout the week, nightlife pulsates in different sections of the city, famous tourist tram lines miss stops due to overcrowding, and a new large cruise ship docks at the port virtually every day.
Despite having a vaccination rate that is the envy of public-health experts across the globe, Portugal’s gradual return to normalcy is being observed as a potential model for other countries as their vaccination rates rise and they consider whether to lift their remaining restrictions. The Portuguese approach contrasts with that of the United Kingdom, where a combination of fewer people being vaccinated and nearly no limitations has resulted in an increase in illnesses and an increasing mortality rate.
Last week, soccer fans flocked to the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon to witness Benfica take on Bayern Munich.
Soccer stadiums in Portugal may be packed to capacity, but fans must be vaccinated, have recently recovered from Covid-19, or have tested negative.
At a food kiosk outside the stadium, Benfica supporters are watching Bayern Munich play. Benfica was defeated 4-0.
“I need visitors; otherwise, I wouldn’t have a business,” Paula Marques, a souvenir store owner in Lisbon, said. “However, I keep an eye on the infection figures every day, and if they go up even a little bit, I feel worried.” “I’m hoping the epidemic is over here in Portugal, but I’m still concerned about what may happen once the weather becomes colder.”
In early 2020, Portugal escaped the initial wave of the pandemic largely undamaged. However, a sharp increase in cases in November of last year, followed by a ferocious spike in January, broke the notion that this little nation hidden away in Europe’s southwest corner could avoid the brunt of the epidemic.
Tourists flocked to Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré area, a hub for nightlife, last week.
At its height in January, the virus claimed the lives of around 290 people every day in Portugal. When adjusted for population, it translates to more than 9,500 people in the United States. In the United States, the worst daily average over a week has never exceeded 3,500 fatalities.
Maria Mota, executive director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Lisbon, recalls one picture from that time that still gives her the creeps. Working late one evening in her lab, she noticed 52 ambulances parked outside the country’s biggest hospital’s emergency department, ready to pick up patients.
According to Dr. Mota, Portugal is now in a “transitional stage” that will likely separate the epidemic from the new reality of endemic Covid. Most people are likely to approach carefully, she said, with memories of the January horror still vivid in the collective Portuguese memory and questions persisting about what will happen once the cold comes and more activity resumes inside.
Cruise ships land at Lisbon’s port on a regular basis.
Last week, people gathered along the Tagus River in Lisbon.
Last week, tourists strolled along the Tagus River in Lisbon at nightfall.
“No one will ever forget what happened in January, but Covid is now endemic, and we must learn to live with the virus,” Dr. Mota added. “Despite the fact that almost the whole population has been vaccinated, the virus continues to spread, demonstrating that it is not going away.”
A persistent persistence of infections in Portugal has not resulted in a considerable rise in the number of hospitalizations or fatalities, as it has in other nations with a big percentage of the population vaccinated.
“Things are improving, but it’s sluggish,” said Miguel Campos, a tuk-tuk driver who takes visitors about Lisbon. “We’re taking tiny steps,” says the narrator. We’re optimistic and hopeful that everything will go back to normal.”
‘Things are improving, but slowly,’ says the narrator. Miguel Campos, a rickshaw taxi driver, spoke about the Covid-19 crisis in Portugal.
Paula Marques, the owner of a souvenir store in Lisbon, said her company is reliant on tourists, and she is concerned that infection rates may climb as the weather cools.
According to Valentim Gaspar, another rickshaw taxi driver, there were 800 rickshaw taxi drivers in Lisbon before the epidemic, but today only approximately 200 work during the week and 500 on weekends. For the time being, he added, the balance between drivers and visitors allows him to make a reasonable livelihood.
Henrique Gouveia e Melo, an ex-submarine captain called in to manage the vaccination program after a rocky start, is nearly unanimously credited with the Portuguese vaccination success. According to public-health specialists, he exuded confidence and capitalized on the general public’s positive attitude about immunizations. The vaccine was first made available in January, just as the pandemic’s worst symptoms were reaching Portugal, offering a clear incentive for anybody who had been hesitant to be inoculated.
Portugal stands apart on a soccer-crazed continent for its commitment to the sport, making the return to full stadium capacity all the more meaningful for many. Spain, which has one of the highest immunization rates in Europe, just reopened its stadiums to full capacity, but food is still unavailable. Italy upped stadium capacity to 75% from 50% earlier this month. Capacity constraints still exist across much of Germany.
Hugo Vale, a 32-year-old engineer, said as he sipped beer with friends outside the stadium before of the Benfica-Bayern game, “It’s time to open everything up because if someone hasn’t been vaccinated at this point, then they aren’t going to get vaccinated.”
According to the Portuguese government, almost all adults over the age of 50 have received at least one vaccination dosage.
Eric Sylvers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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