LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal moved to help businesses weather the coronavirus epidemic on Friday with a 2.3 billion euros package, including delaying some tax payments and granting soft loans, while tough measures to contain the spread were put in place.
Companies would be allowed to suspend social security payments and maintain employees’ contracts with payments equal to two-thirds of salaries, funded largely by the state.
“The main problem is the lack of liquidity. What we can do is put money in companies’ treasuries so they can preserve their productive capacity and employment,” Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira said after an all-night cabinet meeting.
Portugal has so far reported 112 confirmed cases of coronavirus, far below neighbouring Spain where dozens of people have died, but its vital hotel sector has already been hit.
On Thursday, the government ordered all schools to be shut from next week to contain the epidemic, which Prime Minister Antonio Costa called a threat to survival.
Workers who have to stay at home to care for school children of up to 12 years of age will receive 66% of their base salaries, the government said.
Parents and unions have urged the government to pay workers full base salaries, arguing that two thirds is not be enough to make ends meet.
On Friday, the government led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa declared a “state of alert” until April 9, when the situation will be reevaluated.
Cruise ships would not be allowed to disembark passengers except those residing in Portugal, night clubs would be shut and there would be capacity restrictions on entry to shopping malls and restaurants.
Internal affairs minister Eduardo Cabrita said police officers would be responsible for ensuring nightclubs remain shut, adding that security forces’ resources had been reinforced.
All events held in close spaces with more than 1,000 people have been prohibited, as well as all events held in open spaces with over 5,000 people.
Those who fail to obey the new measures, which will come into force when the clock strikes midnight on Friday, will be punished, he added.
Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony, writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by Alexander Smith and Philippa Fletcher