March 19, 2020 / 8:58 PM / 10 days ago

Portugal restricts movement to stem coronavirus, rules out rationing

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s government told people to stay indoors but assured them there would be enough food on the shelves as a nationwide state of emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak began on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: General view of closed shops and restaurants as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in downtown Lisbon, Portugal March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

For at least 15 days, all non-essential businesses will be closed to customers, although restaurants will be allowed to provide takeaway services. The government recommended that people work from home if possible.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries, petrol stations and banks will remain open but must implement capacity restrictions.

“There is no rationing in shops and no reason for there to be any. We are putting in these measures to make sure the supply chain is not broken,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said after a cabinet meeting to decide on concrete measures for the state of emergency declared on Wednesday.

“That’s what’s important — to save lives, while ensuring that life continues.”

Those infected with coronavirus or being monitored by health authorities will stay in mandatory isolation, and it would be a crime for them to leave the hospital or their homes, Costa said.

Portugal has 785 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with four reported deaths.

People over 70 and those considered vulnerable should only leave home to grab essential goods, go the doctor or walk their pets. All other citizens should avoid leaving their homes but can go to work, assist their families and accompany minors for recreation, among other essential activities.

The government imposed no mandatory lockdown, which Costa said would be “disrespectful” to the Portuguese, who have so far followed government guidelines on staying indoors responsibly.

The first state of emergency in Portugal’s 46-year democratic history, declared by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Wednesday, can be extended in 15-day periods.

“The only ones left at night are the two homeless people living on the square. It’s completely silent — all you hear is the seagulls,” Joana de Castro, 35, whose balcony overlooks one of Lisbon’s busiest squares, said as the restrictions kicked in.

The government announced a 9.2 billion euro package on Wednesday to support workers and provide liquidity for companies affected by the epidemic, including the cancellations-hit tourism industry, which accounts for nearly 15% of GDP.

“We should not lose in this crisis what we recovered after the previous one,” Costa said, referring to the 2010-14 debt crisis from which Portugal emerged, after protracted austerity, with a growing economy and a nearly eradicated fiscal deficit.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee, Additional reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Patricia Rua, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Catherine Evans

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