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Health News

Portuguese lawmakers approve COVID-19 state of emergency

FILE PHOTO: Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa arrives for day two of an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s parliament approved a new state of emergency starting on Monday to fight the spread of the coronavirus that has put the healthcare system under pressure.

The initial state of emergency, which under Portuguese law is limited to 15 days but can be extended indefinitely in 15-day periods, was declared in March and lasted six weeks. It restricted the movement of people and led thousands of businesses to suspend activities.

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

The new state of emergency approved by parliament on Friday will clear the way for compulsory measures such as restrictions on movement of people, but only if and when needed.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa told Antena 1 radio station the state of emergency would not bring “major changes” to the measures already in place, saying it would give the government “legal certainty” to introduce restrictions if necessary.

On Saturday, the government will hold an emergency meeting to discuss potential new restrictions.

Portugal, with just over 10 million people, has recorded a comparatively low 166,900 cases and 2,792 deaths but it reached 5,550 cases on Friday, the highest daily figure since the pandemic started. Testing has also increased.

A total of 2,425 people are in hospital, with 340 in intensive care units (ICUs) - more than the April peak of 271.

The healthcare system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, can accommodate 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Janet Lawrence

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