COVID-19

Portugal activates emergency brake mechanism against covid-19

Portugal shot first. Lisbon activated the European “emergency brake” mechanism, six months after the introduction of the European digital covid certificate. Authorities are now demanding a negative test for everyone who wants to enter the country.

This measure arises when the epidemiological situation in Europe worsens and the new variant, called Omicron, begins to spread. Prime Minister António Costa has declared a “state of calamity”, the stage prior to the state of emergency.

New restrictions are put in place to curb the virus, such as:

  • mandatory telework
  • the obligation to present a negative covid-19 test, carried out 48 hours before entering the country.

These conditions will take effect on December 1 at midnight and will apply to all travelers, including Portuguese and EU citizens. The extraordinary measures will remain in effect at least until January 9.

The decision took the European institutions by surprise. The EU digital covid certificate, launched in early summer, was intended to facilitate cross-border travel. It was also going to exempt holders from additional restrictions, such as the requirement to self-quarantine upon arrival.

This exemption was presented as the main interest of the digital covid certificate, which explains its rapid deployment at the beginning of the summer holidays.

At the same time as this document, the EU offers member states the use of an “emergency brake” mechanism. This device can be used when the epidemiological situation is rapidly deteriorating.

This tool allows a government to introduce testing and quarantine requirements. But it implies one condition: that these measures are exceptional, proportional and temporary and, if possible, that they are applied only at the regional level.

Portugal has decided to implement the stricter version of the emergency brake as the authorities ask all European health pass holders to undergo a test.

This rigorous application was not foreseen when the European Union introduced the digital certificate. This could affect the long-term viability of the document.

“In principle, member states should refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on EU digital covid certificate holders, in particular holders of vaccination and cure certificates,” an EU spokesperson told the Commission on Monday. European. “They should inform the Commission and the other Member States 48 hours in advance if they intend to introduce new restrictions.”

The spokesperson later confirmed to Euronews that Portugal informed the institution of its plans on Monday morning and that officials were still analyzing the request to determine its legality.

Will other EU countries follow?

The socialist government of Antonio Costa particularly defended the implementation of the certificate. He argued that this tool was essential to reactivate the economy, which is highly dependent on tourism.

According to the Commission, the system is a success. This year, more than 650 million certificates were issued in 51 countries across the continent and beyond. The United Kingdom, Norway and Singapore, for example, have joined this system.

The choice of the Portuguese authorities is particularly surprising. The country is one of the most vaccinated states in the world since 88% of its population has obtained two doses against covid-19.

The Lisbon decision was announced 24 hours before the Omicron variant began to grab headlines and scare investors. For the moment, Portugal remains the only EU member country that has activated the emergency mechanism. No other capital has indicated, for the moment, that it intends to follow the same path, according to the Commission.

Switzerland, not a member of the EU but connected to the European system, has already imposed a quarantine on people arriving from countries where the new variant has been detected, in particular the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

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