LISBON (REUTERS) - Portugal reported more than 4,000 daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday (July 14) for the first time since February, official data showed, as hopes of a robust, tourism-driven economic recovery fade amid a surge in infections.
Case numbers have been rising steadily in recent weeks, returning to levels last seen when the country was under a strict lockdown.
Wednesday's 4,153 infections bring the total to 916,559 cases since the pandemic started. Daily deaths remain well below February levels with new cases primarily reported among younger, unvaccinated people.
To tackle the surge, the authorities are gradually imposing tougher measures, such as a night-time curfew. The vaccination roll-out has also been accelerated.
Most new cases are of the more contagious Delta variant, representing 100 per cent of infections in the Lisbon area and in the sunny southern Algarve region, quieter than usual due to the lack of tourists.
The tourism sector contributed around 15 per cent to GDP before the pandemic hit but it collapsed almost completely last year. Now, with the Delta variant rapidly spreading and new restrictions, businesses are struggling to salvage the summer season.
People must present a negative test, a vaccination certificate or proof of recovery to stay in hotels. The same rule applies to restaurants in high-risk areas on Friday nights and at the weekend.
The measures have been criticised by struggling hoteliers and restaurant owners. Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira admitted the rules led to "further suffocation" of the sector.
Mr Vieira said he would rather "assume the political costs of these negative reactions" than not allow restaurants and other businesses to operate.
Portugal's economy shrank 7.6 per cent in 2020, its biggest annual slump since 1936. In the first quarter of 2021, it contracted 3.3 per cent but the government hoped it would return to growth in the third quarter.
But, earlier on Wednesday, Mr Vieira told a parliamentary committee that although the government had a "vigorous outlook for the third quarter", the recovery would now be "more moderate".