LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s government ordered on Thursday to shut down all schools nationwide from next week to contain the coronavirus epidemic, which Prime Minister Antonio Costa labelled a threat to survival in a televised address to the nation.
The suspension of classes encompasses all the education system from kindergartens to universities, both public and private, and will be in force until further evaluation on April 9. There are about 2 million school children in Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people.
Costa also said cruise ships would not be allowed to disembark passengers except those residing in Portugal, night clubs will be shut and there would be capacity restrictions on entry to shopping malls and restaurants.
“This is a fight for our very survival ... the government is determined to adopt every measure necessary,” Costa said.
Portugal has so far reported 78 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, far below the 3,004 in neighbouring Spain where 84 people have died.
Dozens of schools and various universities across Portugal have been shut for several days after tests revealed the virus in pupils or teachers.
“The pandemic has not reached its peak. It is evolving and it is highly likely that in the coming weeks more people will be infected ... and it could be a more lasting outbreak than initially imagined,” Costa added.
He did not announce any specific measures to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has already hit the hotel industry in the tourism-dependent Atlantic coastal country, but said the government would seek to support workers and incomes of those who will stay at home due to the shutdowns.
Earlier on Thursday, Portugal’s AHP hotels association said the hotel sector could lose 30% to 50% of its revenues, or up to 800 million euros ($892 million), between March and June.
Portugal attracts millions of foreign visitors annually, and the tourism sector, accounting for nearly 15% of gross domestic product, helped it recover from the 2010-14 debt crisis.
Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Lisa Shumaker