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World News

Portugal's president ponders COVID-19 state of emergency

LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Monday he was pondering declaring a state of emergency as a preventive measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus at a time when infections are soaring.

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Hours after Prime Minister Antonio Costa asked the president to declare the state of emergency, Rebelo de Sousa said in an interview with RTP Television he was considering the request, explaining it would include specific measures to combat the pandemic but not a “total or nearly total” lockdown.

The initial COVID-19 state of emergency, which under Portuguese law is limited to 15 days but can be extended indefinitely in 15-day periods if necessary, was declared in March and lasted six weeks.

It restricted the movement of people and led thousands of businesses to suspend activities, devastating the once-bailed-out economy.

“The economy cannot handle a (total) confinement,” Rebelo de Sousa said during the interview at his official residence. “What is being considered is a different thing.”

If Rebelo de Sousa declares an emergency, lawmakers must approve it, which is considered highly likely.

On Saturday, the government introduced measures, such as the civic duty - a recommendation rather than a rule - to stay at home except for outings for work, school or shopping, across 121 municipalities including in the key regions of Lisbon and Porto.

A state of emergency would clear the way for compulsory measures such as restrictions on movement of people but only if and when needed.

“It is a critical moment and declaring the ... emergency will reinforce the civic awareness of the sanitary emergency we are facing,” Costa told reporters earlier on Monday, adding the emergency would not be as sweeping as in March but that a nightly curfew could be implemented if deemed necessary.

The emergency would “eliminate legal doubts” regarding measures the government might have to adopt, Costa said.

Portugal, with just over 10 million people, has recorded a comparatively low 146,847 cases and 2,590 deaths from COVID-19. But daily new cases reached 4,656 on Friday, the highest since the pandemic began. Testing for the virus has also increased.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Patricia Vicente Rua and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney

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