Portugal Soccer Club Could Be First Source of Omicron Community Spread Beyond South Africa

The 13 new cases of the omicron coronavirus strain found in Portugal have been identified among members of a prominent soccer club, reported the Associated Press.

In what is being considered the first case of local transmission outside of South Africa, the country's Ricardo Jorge National Health Institute says that a member of the Belenenses SAD soccer club tested positive. According to authorities, he had recently traveled to South Africa and returned to the club's city of Lisbon. Other members of the team, who reportedly have not traveled to South Africa with their teammate, have been ordered to isolate and will undergo regular testing.

Those in the Belenenses SAD club that contracted the omicron strain have not been publicly identified.

"Since this is a new variant, we have to tighten the controls," said health general director Graça Freitas to a local radio station.

Belenenses SAD is not the only team in the country that will be tested for omicron. Benfica, Lisbon's largest soccer club, will also undergo testing after playing against Belenenses SAD in a match on November 27. The game only lasted until just after half-time when it was stopped by a referee due to a lack of players.

Belenenses SAD's schedule has been postponed due to the outbreak. Meanwhile, Benfica is still scheduled to play on December 3 against Sporting Libson.

Out of its population of 10.3 million, 86.6 percent of Portuguese citizens have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Despite this, tighter restrictions have been implemented, with face masks being mandatory again on Wednesday. Those arriving from abroad will also have to give a negative test result in order to enter the country. According to the General Directorate for Health, 2,897 new cases were reported on Sunday along with 12 deaths.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

November 27 Match
Belenenses SAD players before referee Manuel Mota ends the match due to Belenenses SAD having only six players available to continue during the Liga Bwin match between Belenenses SAD and SL Benfica at Estadio Nacional on November 27, 2021, in Oeiras, Portugal. Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Asked about whether the game should have been allowed, the official said that health authorities don't decide over professional soccer games and that it was the clubs themselves who made the call.

Benfica said that its players were tested on Monday as they normally are every week and that results were expected later in the day. It said the club had not received any requests to cancel Saturday's game and league protocols were followed.

Portugal also found two positive coronavirus cases when it screened 218 passengers who arrived in Lisbon on a flight from the capital of Mozambique on Saturday. One of the cases was the delta variant and the other one couldn't be established, authorities said.

Digital certificates proving vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus must be shown to enter restaurants, cinemas and hotels.

Reports also state that 764 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, with 104 in intensive care units. Over 18,400 people have died of COVID-19 in Portugal since the beginning of the pandemic.

National Stadium
Lisbon-based Belenenses SAD club played against Benfica Saturday, starting with only nine players due to a coronavirus outbreak. Portuguese health authorities on Monday identified 13 cases of omicron, the new coronavirus variant spreading fast globally, among members of Belenenses SAD. Above, a Portuguese Under-23 league soccer match gets underway at the national stadium in Oeiras, Lisbon, November 29, 2021. AP Photo/Armando Franca