Vacationers are pouring back into the country. The pavement cafes on the promenade of the river Tagus in Lisbon are full. In the Portuguese capital, little reminds of the pandemic. Most Corona rules have been abolished. Masks have also largely disappeared from everyday life.

But for a few days now, hope for a normal summer has been clouded by a massive increase in the number of corona. More than 30,000 infections are currently registered every 24 hours. The main hotspot is the greater Lisbon area. Virologists speak of an “explosion of new infections” and do not rule out that there could soon be 60,000 cases a day.

The number of corona deaths is growing accordingly. Most recently there were 230 in one week – most of the victims are elderly. The burden on hospitals is also increasing again. There are almost 2,000 Covid 19 patients in the hospitals. The occupancy of beds with corona patients increased by 27 percent within a week.

However, the situation in the health system is not critical as it was a year ago. At that time, the intensive care units were completely overcrowded. Ambulances were backed up at the emergency rooms, and refrigerated containers had to be set up in front of the clinics because there was no more space in the morgues.

Portugal is now better equipped. Mainly thanks to the vaccination campaign: According to the “Our World in Data” portal, which is operated by Oxford University, 87 percent of the total population are double vaccinated, 63 percent are boosted. This makes Portugal one of the European frontrunners.

But this corona relapse still raises concerns. Because more and more workers are absent these days due to corona quarantine measures – which is increasingly causing difficulties for important sectors of the economy such as gastronomy, the hotel industry and the textile industry. And now there are calls again for the return of the mask requirement.

Portugal’s seven-day incidence skyrocketed to 1,835 cases per 100,000 population confirmed by official tests, according to national health authorities. If the forecasts of some virologists come true, the incidence could soon reach a peak of 4,000.

According to statistics from the EU Center for Disease Control (ECDC), Portugal currently has the highest incidence on the entire European continent. In Germany, for example, the comparative figure is currently just over 200, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The BA.5 subtype of the omicron virus variant is responsible for the severe corona outbreak in Portugal. This mutation has displaced the previously dominant subtype BA.2 in Portugal and is now responsible for 80 percent of all new infections, explains the national Ministry of Health.

The BA.5 subvariant is probably more contagious than other virus types, says epidemiologist João Paulo Gomes. “But BA.5 does not appear to cause more severe disease than other variants.”

This is the main reason why Health Minister Marta Temido is ruling out the return of corona restrictions. She relies on the personal responsibility of the Portuguese. And a second booster shot for seniors.

However, a health certificate is required to enter Portugal. Vacationers must therefore either bring the EU vaccination certificate or the certificate of a fresh negative corona test.