Salem Radio Network News Monday, January 24, 2022

Health

Portugal eases COVID-19 rules as infections soar, hospitalisations still low

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal on Thursday said it would allow students to return to school from next week and nightclubs to reopen on Jan. 14 despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases, with hospital admissions still well below levels seen earlier in the pandemic.

“It is evident that the Omicron variant is less severe … vaccination has been effective against (it),” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference, referring to the fast-spreading variant that emerged in late 2021.

“That’s why we have a much lower number of hospitalisations, fewer people in ICU and deaths,” he added.

The variant hit Portugal – one of the world’s most vaccinated nations, with 89% of its people fully inoculated – in November, leading to an increase in cases. These on Wednesday reached a record of close to 40,000 new infections.

Authorities registered 14 fatalities from COVID-19 on Wednesday, far lower than the over 300 daily deaths in the previous peak of the pandemic in late January, when the vaccination campaign had just kicked off.

Hospitals held 1,251 COVID-19 patients compared with a peak of 6,869 on Feb. 1.

From Monday, only coronavirus-infected people and those who live with them need to isolate, while those who have received a booster shot – a total of about 3 million people – no longer need to do so.

Students can return to school on Monday but a work-from-home order, imposed around Christmas, will stay in place until Jan. 14, Costa said.

Nightclubs and bars can reopen on Jan. 14, but a negative test will be required to enter. A negative test will also continue to be requested from all air passengers travelling to Portugal.

The surge in cases comes three weeks before a snap general election on Jan. 30, and Costa said authorities would do everything in their power to ensure all people, including those in isolation, can cast their ballots.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Wednesday isolation could be temporarily suspended on election day.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Sergio Goncalves and PatrĂ­cia Rua; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Jan Harvey)

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