"We have to take a risk. This risk, from the UK side, is minimised by the high rate of vaccination coverage and by carrying out a PCR test upon arrival in Portugal. We also have conditions that are favourable, as the fact that we have the population with higher risk properly vaccinated," said the pulmonologist Filipe Froes.
According to the coordinator of the crisis cabinet Covid-19 of the Portuguese Medical Association, this does not prevent, however, the possible dissemination of the variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus associated with India and that is registering an increasing prevalence in the number of cases of the disease in the United Kingdom.
In this sense, Filipe Froes advocated a strengthening of the articulation of the health authorities of the two countries, which may include Portugal having access to information on possible positive cases detected in screening tests for Covid-19 made on the return to the United Kingdom.
"One factor to ensure greater security would be for UK citizens, when returning to their country of origin, as they have to do a test, if they test positive, we have access to this information to do contact tracing of these people when they were in Portugal," explained the expert.
"There are no perfect worlds, nor zero risk, but the combination of these factors can give confidence and extra peace of mind," stressed the doctor, while also stressing the need for British travellers to quickly contact the Portuguese health authorities if they show symptoms of Covid-19.
According to Filipe Froes, in some areas of London, the variant originating from India already represents 20 percent of the variants in circulation, but he stressed that this is a strain that has been classified as of interest by the American authorities, meaning that it is still subject to continued analysis.
According to the expert, there are "positive data that give us some confidence", such as the good vaccination rate recorded in the UK, which indicates that people will not be infected in the first place, as well as preliminary data that the vaccines are effective against the variant associated with India.
"We have to be very attentive, strengthen the epidemiological surveillance and the variants in circulation and, if necessary, adopt other measures in order to limit the spread of the variant in Portugal," said Filipe Froes.
Also speaking to Lusa, virologist Pedro Simas warned that the growth of this variant in the United Kingdom needs to be contextualised, since it is having a significant predominance in new cases of Covid-19, but that is relative to the reduced volume of infections in that country.
"Between 5 and 12 May, in one week, there were about 900 cases of infections caused by the India variant in the UK. It is having an exponential growth, but it is very relative in terms of volume", said the specialist from the Institute of Molecular Medicine of the University of Lisbon.
The fact that the United Kingdom has a "very advanced group immunity" means that there is a "barrier" to the exponential spread of any variant, explained the virologist, stating that it has been demonstrated that there is "no variant that breaks immunity in a dramatic way".
Regarding Portugal, Pedro Simas considers that the approximately 40 percent of immunity of the population, as a result of the natural immunity of people who have already been infected and of the immunity caused by the vaccine, are also a "safety guarantee" against any variant, including the one associated to India.
Pedro Simas considered that none of the coronavirus variants that have emerged so far have reduced the vaccines' effectiveness in protecting against severe disease and death from Covid-19, while also proving efficient in preventing against SARS-CoV-2 infection.
"If we look at the epidemiological data, there is no reason to suspect that reinfection processes of people who have already been infected or vaccinated are very frequent," said the specialist.
In this sense, Pedro Simas expressed himself in favour of the entry of tourists from the United Kingdom, stating that the control system, through the requirement of a negative PCR test in the last 72 hours, works in the screening of Covid-19 cases.
This week, Health Minister Matt Hancock admitted that variant B1.617.2, first discovered in India, is multiplying rapidly, with most cases being reported in northern England.