LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s government cleared the way on Wednesday for extending the state of emergency by 15 days to combat the spread of the coronavirus as the number of deaths from the disease nears 200.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa declared a 15-day nationwide state of emergency on March 18, which restricted non-essential travel and led thousands of businesses to close their doors.
Lawmakers are due to put the 15-day extension to a vote on Thursday, and a majority have indicated they are in favour.
“This month is decisive for us to be able to control the pandemic,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference. “The effort by the Portuguese to self-discipline is very important and should be reinforced.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Portugal has risen to 8,251, with 187 deaths, far fewer than in neighbouring Spain.
Costa said the country may be facing “one, two, three months” of restrictions on movement of people.
“We cannot be overly optimistic because we know that when restrictions are lifted they have to be lifted slowly,” Costa said. “It is not yet time to be in a hurry.”
Health authorities predict the number of cases and deaths will plateau at the end of May.
A total of 3,600 companies have applied for government support to pay a proportion of salaries for 76,000 workers whose jobs have been temporarily suspended as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the prime minister said.
“We don’t know whether this will last one, two, or three months and this is obviously scary for everyone,” Costa told SIC television channel earlier on Wednesday.
With Easter weekend approaching, he reminded the Portuguese that “families cannot go home to visit their families. .. this year, we must tell emigrants not to come – and if they do, not to leave their homes”.
Tens of thousands of Portuguese living in countries such as France, Luxembourg and Switzerland come to spend Easter and summer holidays in Portugal every year.
Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Ed Osmond