Portugal eases first restrictions on way to ‘freedom day’

Portugal has unveiled a three-part plan to return to normality as the Covid vaccination drive gains momentum.

According to the country’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa: "Today we presented the next step in liberating society and the economy, which will happen progressively and gradually.

"The incidence rate and the infection rhythm in Portugal are going down, as well as the number of hospitalisations, intensive care patients and deaths…[and] the pressure on the national health service has also gone down," he added.

The first restrictions were eased on Monday as over half the country is now fully vaccinated. This included bringing an end to night curfews, permitting bars and restaurants to revert to their usual opening hours. In addition, the majority of venues were allowed to reopen their doors, such as gyms, sports stadiums and casinos. However, nightclubs remain closed.

A number of restrictions are still in place, such as providing a digital vaccine certificate or a negative test to enter restaurants at weekends and wearing a face covering.

The second phase of the plan will come into effect with 70% of the population are vaccinated, predicted to be at the beginning of next month. At this time large venues will be permitted 75% capacity.

The final part of the plan will come into play when 85% of people have received both doses of the vaccine, likely by October. At this point, capacity restrictions will be lifted and nightclubs will be permitted to reopen.

Authorities are confident Portugal will reach "complete freedom" by the end of summer, but this three-part plan will undergo ongoing reviews. 

The Prime Minister added: "This is the moment to try to control the pandemic and resume activities, accompanying the rhythm of the complete vaccination of the population.

"But we'll be careful and watchful because the virus remains active and mutating. No one can guarantee there won't be new variants that disturb the expected evolution that we planned," he added.