Prime Minister António Costa announces new measures after the Council of Ministers meeting, at Palácio da Ajuda in Lisbon on December 21. Photo: EPA/MANUEL DE ALMEIDA

PM lays down measures for yet another Covid-blighted Christmas

Prime Minister António Costa has laid out new measures this afternoon designed to stem the rising tide of Covid infections over Christmas.

From midnight on Christmas Day and for the next two weeks (at least), remote working from home will once again become ‘mandatory’; crèches and tuition centres will be closed and bars and discotheques will be forced to shut down.

The requirement to present negative antigen/PCR tests (verified by a health professional), irrespective of vaccine status, will become much more commonplace – covering any and all cultural and sporting events as well as stays in hotel / touristic accommodation.

A limit on capacity in shops and venues will be returning – ensuring there are 5 sqm to each person.

And once again the dismal green image of a family around the Christmas table potentially breathing out virus particles was used to impress on citizens the need to ‘wear masks as much as possible’.

Tests too are to be heavily plugged. People are advised to self-test before all social gatherings outside the home.

And on the days of December 24 and 25, and December 30, 31 and January 1, anyone going to a restaurant, casino, or festive party must present a negative test for Covid, irrespective of vaccine status (again, this test must be taken at a pharmacy or official testing centre).

Rules over ‘groups over New Year’ in the street have returned, limiting these to 10 people.

No alcohol may be consumed ‘in the public highway’ either – meaning the tradition of taking a bottle of champagne outside to celebrate with friends is another ‘no-no’.

As the PM admitted: “This still isn’t a normal Christmas”.

In fact, it’s a Christmas almost identical to the one we had last year, before the stellar vaccination rollout.

As for vaccinations, the booster jabs have been going into people’s arms at lightening speed – and Mr Costa predicts third dose boosters will be needed by everyone.

For now, 83.5% of the population over the age of 65 has already received their boosters, and another 80,000 people are booked in to receive their boosters tomorrow.

Mr Costa stressed that the vaccination of children will also go a long way to helping to cut down on transmission – though with the level of transmission in the last month, with already 85% of the country fully-vaccinated, this reasoning falters somewhat.

The PM explained that, in one month, infections had spiralled to the point that over 562 people per 100,000 are now infected by SARS-CoV-2.

The ‘good news’ is that the Rt (transmission number) hasn’t increased so rapidly. Numbers owe themselves to Omicron’s much higher transmissibility, but, for now, they are not translating into crushing pressure on hospitals.

Mr Costa presented the measures by explaining how much better off the country was in terms of people in hospital this year than it was last.

What else do we need to know? Vaccination centres will not be operating on December 24, 25 or 26. Neither will they be running on December 31 or January 1.

While financial support will be offered to bars and discos, the bottom line is that results of these new measures will be reviewed on January 5 to see whether or not they should continue beyond January 10.

This means the return of children to schools on January 10 is still ‘not certain’. Mr Costa told journalists “everything is dependent on the epidemiological situation” of the country in two weeks time.

As part of the national effort to encourage citizens to get tested, the government will be increasing the number of ‘free’ antigen tests people can take every month from four to six. The problem with this measure is that many pharmacies have not signed up to the «programme, thus they continue to charge customers for the tests, which generally have to be booked some time in advance.