Portugal eases virus limits, takes aim at ‘total freedom’

LISBON, PORTUGAL (AP) — Portugal is beginning its journey to what the country’s prime minister calls “total freedom”, with a government decision on Thursday to start winding down COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ahead of a forecast 70 per cent of people being fully vaccinated by the end of this summer.

The Health Ministry said around 5.4 million people, or 52 per cent of the target population of people over age 16, are fully vaccinated. It predicts the goal of 70 per cent of people fully vaccinated will be reached in six weeks, with 85 per cent completely inoculated in October.

“This is the moment… when we can take another step forward,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said in a televised announcement. “We are going to try and get the economy moving again, in a gradual way, in sync with the pace of vaccination.”

Costa announced three phases of staggered relaxation of restrictions stretching over the next three months. Starting tomorrow, localised curfews will end and restrictions on the opening times of restaurants, stores and cultural venues will be lifted, allowing them to stay open till 2am.

However, a digital virus pass proving inoculation or a negative test will be needed to enter restaurants at weekends or on public holidays, when they are often busy, and for gyms and sports and cultural events. Working from home will be recommended instead of mandatory.

From September, face masks will no longer be mandatory outdoors and premises holding public events can increase the number of people present to 75 per cent of capacity, up from 66 per cent.

A tram conductor drives through Lisbon’s Graca neighbourhood. PHOTO: AP