|From: Glenn Petersen||10/24/2021 7:53:29 PM|
|Portugal’s cautious return to normality, despite a vaccination rate that is the envy of public-health officials around the world, is being watched as a possible way forward for other countries as their vaccinations inch higher and they contemplate when to ditch their remaining restrictions. The Portuguese approach contrasts with the U.K.’s, where a combination of fewer vaccinated people and almost no restrictions has led to a surge in infections and a rising death rate.|
Endemic Covid-19 Has Arrived in Portugal. This Is What It Looks Like.
Portugal, with one of the world’s highest coronavirus vaccination rates, recently lifted many restrictions in a cautious return to normality
By Eric Sylvers
Photographs by Daniel Rodriguez
The Wall Street Journal
Updated Oct. 24, 2021 1:43 pm ET
LISBON— In this soccer-crazed capital of a soccer-obsessed nation, the stadiums are full again. Portugal, a country ravaged earlier in the year by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, now has the highest Covid-19 vaccination rate in Europe and offers a glimpse of a country trying to come to grips with what is increasingly looking like an endemic virus.
Tens of thousands of screaming soccer fans crammed into the Estadio da Luz here Wednesday to watch hometown favorites Benfica take on Bayern Munich. They amassed on the subway to the stadium, at the entrance as officials patted them down and, after the game, at food trucks where they downed sandwiches and beer as they tried to forget the drubbing their team had just received.
The government recently lifted a 30% capacity limit at stadiums imposed to control Covid-19. But things haven’t returned to what they were: Fans need a certificate showing they are vaccinated, recently recovered from the disease or tested negative. Masks are obligatory throughout stadiums.
Close to 100% of people over the age of 50 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Portuguese government. For those between the ages of 25 and 49 it is 95% and from 12 to 17 it is 88%. Some 89% of Portugal’s entire population of 10 million has had at least one vaccine dose, not far behind the rate in the world-leading United Arab Emirates, compared with 65% in the U.S. and 73% in the U.K., according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.
Portugal has been averaging six deaths a day for the past month, compared with almost 300 at the peak in January. Adjusted for population, the current rate equates to about 200 in the U.S. The deaths plunged to one or two a day in May and June before rising to 20 in July. The number of new daily recorded infections and hospitalizations has been trending down since the summer. The country is now averaging about 750 new cases a day, compared with almost 13,000 in January. There are about 320 people hospitalized, down from almost 6,700 at the peak.
On Oct. 1, Portugal ditched most of its Covid-containment rules, but in many ways life in Lisbon is a throwback to the deepest days of the pandemic. Hand pumps dispensing disinfectant gel are ubiquitous and some churches still rope off seats to ensure social distancing even though it is no longer obligatory. The Covid-19 certificate is required at large events and masks are still mandatory on public transportation, in schools for students 10 and older, and for employees in shops, restaurants and bars.
Portugal dropped most of its coronavirus restrictions on Oct. 1.
Masks are still mandatory on Lisbon’s subway and other public transportation.
At the same time, subways are full. Lisbon’s fleet of rickshaw taxis, known by the Thai term tuk-tuk, whisk tourists along the narrow streets of the city’s old town. Nightlife pulsates in various parts of the city all week, tram lines popular with tourists skip stops because they are bursting with passengers and almost every day finds a new massive cruise ship docked at the harbor.
Portugal’s cautious return to normality, despite a vaccination rate that is the envy of public-health officials around the world, is being watched as a possible way forward for other countries as their vaccinations inch higher and they contemplate when to ditch their remaining restrictions. The Portuguese approach contrasts with the U.K.’s, where a combination of fewer vaccinated people and almost no restrictions has led to a surge in infections and a rising death rate.
Soccer fans arriving at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon last week to watch Benfica play Bayern Munich.
Soccer stadiums in Portugal can operate at full capacity, but spectators must show that they are vaccinated, recently recovered from Covid-19 or tested negative.
Benfica fans watching the Bayern Munich match at a food stall outside the stadium. Benfica lost 4-0.
“I need tourists, otherwise I have no business, but I look at the infection numbers every day and if it goes up even a little bit I get nervous,” said Paula Marques, who runs a souvenir shop in Lisbon. “I hope the pandemic is a thing of the past here in Portugal, but to be honest I still worry a little bit about what will happen as it gets colder.”
Portugal got through the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020 relatively unscathed. But a steep rise in cases in November last year and then a savage surge in January shattered the illusion some here had that this small country tucked away in the southwest corner of Europe could escape the worst of the pandemic.
Tourists last week thronged Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré neighborhood, a nightlife hotspot.
At the peak in January, an average of about 290 people were dying a day in Portugal from the virus. Adjusted for population, that equates to more than 9,500 in the U.S. The worst daily average over a week in the U.S. never topped 3,500 deaths.
Maria Mota, executive director of Lisbon’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, has one image indelibly imprinted in her memory from that period that still makes her jittery. Working late one evening at her lab, from her window she counted 52 ambulances lined up outside the emergency room of the country’s largest hospital waiting to drop off patients.
Portugal is now in a “transitional period” that likely will delineate the pandemic from the new reality of endemic Covid-19, said Dr. Mota. With memories of the trauma of January still fresh in the collective Portuguese memory and with question marks remaining over what will happen as the cold returns and more life resumes indoors, most people are likely to proceed cautiously, she said.
Cruise ships regularly dock at the harbor in Lisbon.
People meeting along the Tagus River in Lisbon last week.
Tourists at sunset last week along the Tagus River in Lisbon.
“Nobody will ever forget this past January, but now Covid is endemic and we need to learn to live with the virus,” said Dr. Mota. “Almost the whole population is vaccinated here and the virus still circulates, showing it won’t go away.”
As in other countries with a large proportion of the population vaccinated, a stubborn persistence of infections in Portugal hasn’t led to a significant increase in the rate of hospitalizations or deaths.
“Things are getting better, but it’s slow,” said Miguel Campos, who drives tourists around Lisbon in a tuk-tuk. “We are taking baby steps. We have a mix of optimism and hope that this return to normal will continue.”
’Things are getting better, but it’s slow,’ said rickshaw taxi driver Miguel Campos, of the Covid-19 situation in Portugal.
Paula Marques, who owns a souvenir shop in Lisbon, said her business relies on tourism and that she worries infections might rise when the weather gets colder.
Before the pandemic there were 800 rickshaw taxi drivers in Lisbon, but now only about 200 work during the week and 500 on weekends, said Valentim Gaspar, another rickshaw taxi driver. For now, the balance between drivers and tourists makes it possible to earn a decent living, he said.
The Portuguese almost universally attribute their vaccination success to Henrique Gouveia e Melo, an ex-submarine commander brought on to run the inoculation drive after a shaky start. He projected confidence and tapped into the population’s generally favorable attitudes to vaccinations, according to public-health experts. The vaccine rollout began in January just as the worst of the pandemic peaked in Portugal, providing a clear incentive for anybody who might have been unsure about getting vaccinated.
On a soccer-mad continent, Portugal stands out for its dedication to the sport, making the return to full capacity in stadiums all the more symbolic for many people. Spain, which also has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, recently returned to full capacity at its stadiums, but food still can’t be sold. Italy this month increased stadium capacity to 75% from 50%. In most of Germany, there are still limits on capacity.
“It’s time to open everything up because if somebody hasn’t gotten vaccinated at this point, then they aren’t going to get vaccinated,” said Hugo Vale, a 32-year-old engineer, as he drank beer with friends outside the stadium ahead of the Benfica-Bayern game.
Close to 100% of people over the age of 50 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Portuguese government.
Write to Eric Sylvers at email@example.com
Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the October 25, 2021, print edition as 'Portugal Offers a Look At Endemic Covid-19.'
Endemic Covid-19 Has Arrived in Portugal. This Is What It Looks Like. - WSJ
|RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read|
|From: kidl||10/25/2021 1:32:23 PM|
|Moscow rolls-out Lockdowns and Quarantines for yet another Winter, as the vaccination rate remains below 32% through-out Eastern Europe - bbc.com -- themoscowtimes.com|
Frustration mounts among Vaccinated Minority - Moscow Goes on Partial Lockdown Starting Oct. 28
After running a global vaccine disinformation campaign, triple-vaccinated Vladimir Putin coyly notes, “It’s strange that well-educated people, people with advanced degrees, don’t want to get vaccinated. We have a safe and effective vaccine.”
Nikolai Rish is furious that his Moscow chain of upmarket salons, Birdie Hairdressers, is being forced to close for at least 10 days in a partial citywide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, following a surge in cases, hospitalizations and fatalities over recent weeks.
“It’s unfair that others aren’t getting vaccinated while we are. This lockdown — which is needed — is their fault. We’ve had to reschedule all our clients, it really is hell,” co-owner Rish told The Moscow Times.
More than 10 months after Russia launched a mass vaccination campaign, frustration among the minority who have had the jab, like Rish, is bubbling toward unvaccinated Russians.
Russia’s leaders, including President Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, as well as health officials have also left no doubt as to who they believe is to blame for the reintroduction of lockdowns — the two-thirds of Russians who refuse to be vaccinated.
“It’s strange that well-educated people, people with advanced degrees, don’t want to get vaccinated. We have a safe and effective vaccine,” Putin said last week
“I call upon you to go out and get vaccinated. It's a question of your life and the lives of the people close to you.”
The forced closure of non-essential businesses in Moscow is a dramatic u-turn in the country’s approach to the virus, which had prioritized keeping the economy open even as cases and deaths accelerated in previous waves of infection.
Ahead of September’s parliamentary elections, commentators had suspected political motives played a role in the Kremlin’s shunning of unpopular policies such as vaccine mandates and QR-codes to allow vaccinated people to enter indoor public venues like bars and cafes.
Those who were vaccinated — and have even already received a booster shot — say they are now losing patience, angry that they are paying the cost for a lockdown they did everything they could to avoid. Many believe the new measures are unfair to those businesses that got their employees vaccinated.
“We’ve all been vaccinated for several months already, and in our sector the vaccination rate is high, 80-90%,” said Igor Stoyanov, president of the Association of Beauty Industry Enterprises, a network of hairdressers, manicurists and beauty salons — a sector set to be hit hardest by the forced closures, which could yet be extended if cases do not start to fall.
“There is a lot of resentment among those who have been vaccinated. Businesses also have a lot of resentment over the lack of control. There’s just a lot of anger around this whole topic,” he said.
“What can I say? It's the ultimate injustice. We vaccinated our staff as requested, but it didn’t help. It's unfair, but we are getting used to this treatment,” said Lera Shulomova, who runs Tilda, a restaurant in the upmarket Patriarshiye Prudy neighbourhood.
Other businesses, large and small, have taken to highlighting their high vaccination levels in recent days, following the announcement of a nationwide non-working week — a de facto paid public vacation — intended to act as a circuit breaker on rising infections. State-run Sberbank said Friday that 86% of its employees had been vaccinated.
One in three
But nationwide just one in three Russians have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus with one of the country’s own vaccines.
In the summer, a short-lived QR-codes system allowed the few fully-vaccinated Muscovites to enter bars and restaurants, but this time round Sobyanin has ordered a full closure, hitting the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike.
The sense of injustice, particularly among smaller business owners critical of what they see as weak support from the government when they are being told to close down and carry on paying staff, is growing.
“We have 15-meter ceilings, air conditioning, ventilation, the tables are far apart, all our employees wear masks and they are all vaccinated, but I still have to shut down,” said Andrei Kovalev, who runs a food court in Moscow and heads an independent entrepreneurs’ association.
“Then look at the metro, where half the people don’t wear masks and everybody is packed in like sardines.”
Many business owners have called for the government to buy foreign coronavirus vaccines to encourage people distrustful of Russia’s homemade jabs to get vaccinated.
“This is no longer a matter of prestige or money, but national security. If we do not want to live like this for another 10 years, we need to make drastic decisions, not those that led us to this situation,” said Anastasia Tatulova, founder of the Anderson cafe chain and a prominent spokesperson for small businesses throughout the pandemic.
Kovalev backs even more radical measures.
“The government’s vaccination campaign has completely failed,” he said. “We should give poor people cash payments — 50,000 ($700) or 100,000 rubles ($1,400) — if they get vaccinated. People will quickly change their minds for that kind of money. And anyway, it will be spent in the economy and go back to the government in taxes.”
Dmitry Nartov, CEO of cinema operator Kinomax, also criticized the “indiscriminate” lockdown in Moscow.
“It doesn’t have any educational effect,” he told the Business FM news site. “In Europe, the U.S. and across the whole world, restrictions are imposed on unvaccinated citizens. Here, those who were obedient and who have a high level of social responsibility are also forced to sit inside during this non-working period.”
Russia Reports Record Covid Deaths and Cases
Since the introduction of vaccine mandates and regional lockdowns last week, Russia has seen an increase in the pace of vaccination, according to statistics compiled by the Gogov website.
But resistance to being vaccinated has proved stubborn. Demand for vaccines surged over the summer when similar rules were temporarily rolled out, requiring service sector businesses to ensure a majority of their staff were vaccinated. Polling data suggested this encouraged people who were already open to getting the jab to make their decision.
Around half of Russians still say they won’t get vaccinated — a share which has barely moved over the last year, said Levada Center director Denis Volkov. He suspects that Russia’s unvaccinated are set to remain in the majority, and their large numbers could cap any serious split in society.
“Since there are clearly fewer people who are vaccinated than unvaccinated, and also because the unvaccinated can be quite aggressive, the vaccinated often keep quiet. They treat the unvaccinated more with regret, pity or even condescension, than anger,” he told The Moscow Times.
“Some conflict may arise, but I doubt that it will come to a split. Putin is still very cautious. He does not want to convince anybody [to do something they are against]. It is unlikely that anything will change.”
The president has repeatedly ruled out making vaccines mandatory, even as he has increasingly urged Russians to have the jab. Critics say authorities have only recently started taking the pandemic — and the need to vaccinate — seriously, after almost 18 months of mixed messages, downplaying the virus and claiming victory.
Russia’s top coronavirus doctor, Denis Protsenko, has also grown increasingly angry at the strain being put on the country’s healthcare system by unvaccinated patients.
“Anti-vaxxers and others who are fighting against basic safety measures are making a significant contribution to the growth of the pandemic. There are no alternatives here: either everybody gets vaccinated or everybody gets sick,” he said in a social media post, pleading with people to “start treating each other with basic respect: wear masks in public places and stop going to work if you have flu symptoms.”
Salon owner Rish had a shorter message for the majority of Russians still holding out. As Moscow announced its latest lockdown he also took to social media, writing: “Dear unvaccinated friends. I want to say: this is all because of you.”
|RecommendKeepReplyMark as Last Read|