Portugal speeds up vaccination as COVID-19 infections rise

Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines are seen at Sao Jose Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON, June 21 (Reuters) - As the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread, Portuguese authorities are scrambling to bring a worrying spike in cases under control and said they would accelerate vaccinations and increase testing.

Just over 25% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Portugal, a country of 10 million that faced its toughest battle against the virus in January.

Most of those fully vaccinated are older or more vulnerable but a recent rise in cases around the populous Lisbon area led authorities to speed up the vaccination campaign, especially among younger people.

The number of people testing newly positive every 24 hours is back to late February levels, when Portugal was still under lockdown. Most restrictions have since been lifted and Portugal opened its doors to some tourists last month.

The Delta variant, first identified in India, represents over 60% of cases in the Lisbon area though still less than 15% in the northern half of Portugal, the country's health institute said on Sunday. read more

Those aged 35-39 can start booking their vaccination appointment on Monday. Next month, people aged 20-29 will be able to schedule their appointment too. Lisbon is opening an additional vaccination centre to cope with demand.

Lisbon's mayor's office said in a statement on Monday that all people - residents and non-residents - could from now get unlimited coronavirus tests for free at the city's pharmacies and mobile sites.

The Portuguese Society for Health Management (SPGS) urged authorities to open vaccination for all age groups as soon as possible as younger people are at greatest risk of contagion this time around.

A weekend travel plan was put in place around Lisbon's metropolitan area last Friday, stopping people from leaving or entering the region, but the SPGS said more measures were urgently needed.

"The control of Lisbon's metropolitan area must be more restricted and prolonged to try to avoid the spread of the virus as much as possible," it said.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by David Evans

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