Lisbon suburbs brace for return of lockdown

Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee

By Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee

LISBON (Reuters) - Several suburbs of Lisbon are going into lockdown again as coronavirus cases surge, but residents fear the measures will not suffice to slow the infection rate in areas where many live in overcrowded homes and use congested public transport.

Patricia Ribeiro, 36, lives in Odivelas and makes her living as a cleaner. She has continued working during the pandemic to make ends meet, taking the often crammed metro and bus to commute to the city centre.

Now, nearly two months after the authorities began easing an initial lockdown, her civil parish is one of 19 in Greater Lisbon where people will have to go back to staying at home from Wednesday.

Localised outbreaks have kept cases increasing by hundreds per day for the past month. Portugal had seen itself as a success story in combating the disease, with the death toll at 1,555 much lower than in neighbouring Spain, where more than 28,000 people died of COVID-19.

"There are lots of people on the streets," Ribeiro told Reuters. "My mother is sick and I'm afraid to take the virus home."

Residents affected by the lockdown will be allowed to leave home to buy essential goods and to travel to work, and there will be a limit of five people for gatherings.

But images of packed trains and buses to and from central Lisbon and reports of large gatherings have raised alarm.

"I think authorities should be on top of certain situations (...) because this is getting bad," said 55-year-old Leonor Pereira, who also lives in Odivelas.

Health experts are concerned the authorities will not be able to keep at home all those infected or exposed to positive cases, especially in poorer areas.

"We feel these measures don't necessarily work, and aren't always respected by people, often simply out of necessity," said Guilherme Duarte, a doctor from Amadora, another Lisbon suburb where restricitions are due to return.

"And of course it's difficult to implement measures when people live eight, ten to a room."

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Victoria Waldersee, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)