March 18, 2020 / 4:26 PM / 10 days ago

Portugal's president asks parliament to authorise state of emergency due to coronavirus

LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa asked parliament on Wednesday to authorise a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak, his office said.

FILE PHOTO: Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa arrives for the a special European council on budget in Brussels, Belgium February 20, 2020. Julien Warnand/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that the government agreed with the president on the need for the drastic measure in order to save lives and guarantee supplies of essential goods.

Parliament is expected to swiftly confirm the presidential decree in what would be the first time the country has declared a state of emergency nationwide in 46 years of democratic history.

Such a measure can allow the authorities to restrict movement of people, temporarily requisition businesses, suspend the right to strike and restrict meetings and protests.

If lawmakers give the green light to the presidential decree on Wednesday afternoon, ministers will then meet on Thursday to approve the exact measures, Costa said, adding the state of emergency will kick off soon after it.

According to Portuguese law, a state of emergency can only be declared in the face of an “imminent” or “serious threat” and is limited to 15 days but can be extended indefinitely in 15-day periods if deemed necessary.

Armed forces can be used to enforce the measures.

“Our priority is to save lives but to save lives it is essential that life continues,” Costa told a news conference. “Essential goods must continue to be ensured (during the state of emergency).”

“We are facing a pandemic which will certainly last for months,” Costa added, appealing for “serenity, calm, and trust”.

Portugal has 642 confirmed cases of the virus so far, with two reported deaths.

The president decided a state of emergency was the best way forward to fight the virus after a long meeting with members of his state council via video conference earlier on Wednesday.

Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan

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