Portugal investigates local transfer of Omicron in football team
Lisbon – Portuguese health authorities on Monday identified 13 cases of the omicron virus, a new type of coronavirus that is spreading rapidly globally, among members of a major football club, and were investigating whether it was one of the first reported cases of local transmission of the virus outside South Africa.
The Ricardo Jorge National Institute of Health said one of those who tested positive for the virus was a player from Lisbon-based soccer club Belenenses SAD who had recently traveled to South Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified. The others have reportedly not traveled to South Africa, where most cases have been recorded so far.
Those who have been in contact with positive cases have been ordered to isolate, regardless of vaccination status or exposure to potential infection, and will be tested regularly for COVID-19, the institute said.
Portugal’s general director of health, Graça Freitas, said players from Benfica, Lisbon’s biggest team, which played for Belenenses on Saturday, will also be tested for the virus.
“Since this alternative is new, we have to tighten controls,” Freitas told local TSF radio.
Asked if the game should be allowed, the official said health authorities do not take a decision on professional football matches and that the call was made by the clubs themselves.
The Primeira Liga match started with just nine Belenenses SAD players on the field – twice less than the match – due to the coronavirus outbreak. But the referee stopped the match shortly after the end of the first half, with Benfica leading 7-0, when only seven players from Belenenses entered the field and the team then lost another player.
Club president Rui Pedro Soares said that despite having a dying squad, his club did not ask for the match to be postponed.
Benfica said their players were tested on Monday as they normally do every week and results are expected later in the day. She said the club had not received any requests to cancel Saturday’s match and league protocols had been followed.
Benfica’s next scheduled match is the Primera Liga derby against Sporting Lisbon on Friday.
Portugal also found two positive cases of coronavirus when it examined 218 passengers who arrived in Lisbon on a flight from the Mozambique capital on Saturday. Authorities said one of the cases was delta and the other could not be proven.
Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, where 86.6% of its 10.3 million residents have received two coronavirus vaccines, authorities in Portugal have tightened pandemic restrictions amid the recent surge in infections.
From Wednesday, wearing a face mask will again be mandatory in enclosed spaces and digital certificates proving vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and hotels.
The new measures make a negative test result mandatory for everyone arriving on a flight from abroad.
The Directorate General of Health officially reported 2,897 new cases on Sunday, with 764 in hospitals, 104 in intensive care units, and 12 deaths. More than 18,400 people have died of COVID-19 in Portugal since the start of the pandemic.
Barra reported from Madrid. AP sports writer Thales Azoni in Madrid contributed to this report.
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