Omicron subvariant fuels Portugal’s COVID-19 surge

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LISBON, June 2 (Reuters) – A sub-variant of Omicron has fueled a rise in COVID-19 cases in Portugal which now has the second highest infection rate in the world, potentially threatening the recovery of the tourism sector .

Portugal has recorded an average of 2,447 new cases per million inhabitants in the past seven days. That compares to neighboring Spain’s 449 and Britain’s 70, according to tracker Our World In Data.

The moving average has declined slightly over the past few days and is just over a third of Omicron’s January 31 peak.

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Portugal has the fifth highest death rate in the world from COVID-19 and hospitalizations are on the rise, but both are still well below previous peaks.

Several tourism businesses contacted by Reuters expressed concerns about the surge, but said they had so far had no cancellations. The number of foreign tourists in April was close to levels seen before the pandemic.

Over 90% of the Portuguese population is fully vaccinated.

The Ricardo Jorge Institute of Public Health said in a report Tuesday that Omicron’s BA.5 subvariant accounts for nearly 90% of new COVID-19 infections. The BA.4 subvariant was also detected in Portugal.

The two led the fifth wave of COVID in South Africa last month, with scientists saying they were able to dodge antibodies from a previous infection.

“Portugal is probably the European country with the highest prevalence of this sub-lineage and this partly explains the high number (of cases) we are seeing,” Health Minister Marta Temido told RTP.

The government lifted most COVID-19 restrictions, including the mandatory use of masks in most indoor public spaces, in April and said there were no plans to reintroduce any measures.

Temido said the use of masks was still recommended and authorities would continue to roll out booster doses of vaccine for the most vulnerable.

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Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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