LISBON — Portugal has registered a significant increase in new coronavirus cases over the past three days, prompting the authorities to renew appeals for people to respect social-distancing rules.
“We cannot let our guard down,” said Health Department Director Graça Freitas. “Where there has been a relaxation of the physical distancing measures, of prevention and control measures, new clusters of the disease emerge.”
Portugal has been relatively successful in limiting the pandemic compared to its neighbors, but it logged more new infections over the past three days than in the previous seven.
Freitas spoke at a daily briefing which showed 553 new cases Friday, a jump of 2.06 percent compared with an average daily rise of 0.79 percent in the week up to May 5.
On May 2, the government lifted a six-week state of emergency and on Monday started a phased lifting of lockdown measures, allowing small shops to reopen.
Freitas said it was too early to blame the surge on the relaxation of restrictions.
Most of the new cases have been in the Lisbon region which, until now, has been less affected than the north of the country.
Freitas said the rise around Lisbon could be partly down to increased testing in the region, particularly among care workers. She also pointed to a recently discovered outbreak in a meat-processing plant in the town of Azambuja, east of Lisbon, where more than 100 workers tested positive.
However, health officials have also warned that Portugal’s declining infection rate led people to adopt riskier behavior even before the state of emergency was lifted: for example, heading to beaches in defiance of police orders.
“The epidemic is not over, deconfinement does not mean easing up, taking steps to return to normal life cannot and must not put into question what has been achieved so far, at great sacrifice,” António Sales, state secretary for health, said at the same briefing.