There has been a lot of talk lately about Omicron, and this has obscured what is actually happening on the ground in Europe and specifically in Portugal.
The fact is that Omicron has not, as yet, made a measurable impression in Europe. But the Delta variant is running wild and a new spike in reported cases is very much in evidence. In the latest two weeks ending November 30, six countries of interest were “extremely high risk” – Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland and Denmark. This means that, in this two-week period, the number of reported cases per 100,000 population was at, or exceeded, 960.
A further four countries – Germany, the UK, Norway and France – were classified as “very high risk” (between 480 and 959 cases per 100,000 pop.).
Portugal is still only in the middle of the “high risk” category. Only Italy, Spain and Sweden are in a better position (i.e., lower incidence) right now.
However, within mainland Portugal, the Algarve, is significantly in the “very high risk” category (709 cases per capita).
Why has the Algarve been most affected? I see several reasons:
1) the rate of full vaccinations is well below that for the rest of Portugal;
2) the Portugal Masters golf and the Moto GP were both in November (the case incidence is highest in the 30-39 age group);
3) incidence figures include visitors and tourists and not just residents, but the cases per 100,000 pop. data is based only on the resident population, so any visitor cases inflate the Algarve’s figure.
And in the 16 Algarve concelhos, Monchique (1,105) and Portimão (1,061) are “extremely high risk”, while nine of the other 14 are “very high risk”.
Portugal has been relatively lightly touched by Delta mainly because it is leading Europe in vaccinations and boosters. Virtually everyone over the age of 12 in Portugal has been fully vaccinated. The booster programme has now reached 75% of the 80+ age group, 42% of the 65-79 group and 3% of the under 65s.
Theoretically, all residents aged 65+ can book their booster online, although I know several people who actually have had a great deal of difficulty doing this.
In any event, your booster must be taken at least five months after your second jab.
I have often been asked how one can prove (e.g., at a border) that they have had the booster. The digital certificate will show the date of the booster, but it is not identified as a booster and the certificate will seem to imply that the holder has only had two jabs. It is possible, however, to access your booster info, although it is rather complicated.
You have to download the SNS24 app on your phone, then in-put your “utente” number, birth date and cell phone number. You then receive a six-digit code from the SNS. You then create your own four-digit code, which you will need for future access to the site.
Once you have done all this, you click “Boletim Vacinas” and you will have your entire vaccination history, including your flu jabs and your booster. You can also click “Certificado Digital COVID” to get your digital certificate.
What has Omicron panic done to travel restrictions? It is still early days, but, as from December 7, the UK will require a negative PCR or antigen test within 48 hours of departure from Portugal plus another test within two days after arrival (and you must quarantine in the UK until you get a negative result). The US requires the test within 24 hours of departure.
You need a PCR test 72 hours before or an antigen test 48 hours before entering Portugal now, even if you are only driving in from Spain (i.e., returning from a day trip). Although the border is open and there are no checks, in principle the GNR can stop you and ask for proof of negative test.
In summary, while the situation is rapidly evolving, I think that we in Portugal, and even in the Algarve, have little cause for concern (assuming we are “fully vaxxed and boostered”). This does not mean that we should let our guards down or get careless.