Movement ban in force in Portugal as COVID-19 cases hit record

FILE PHOTO: A police officer inspects documents at a checkpoint to control the movement between different municipalities during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

BENAVENTE, Portugal (Reuters) - Checkpoints have been set up across Portugal to stop unauthorised travel during a five-day movement ban which began on Friday to contain the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases reached a record high.

Movement between Portugal’s more than 300 municipalities is prohibited between Friday and Nov. 3 to reduce risk of virus transmission during the All Saints national holiday but there are exceptions, including for those travelling to and from work.

In Benavente, not far from Lisbon, police stopped drivers and asked them why they were travelling. Most had a valid reason, according to police.

“It’s nine o’clock and I’m still here but if it has to be, it has to be,” said Cristina Figueira, who was authorised to travel for work. “Perhaps it is a good measure so there are not so many people moving around.”

Portugal, with just over 10 million people, has recorded a comparatively low 137,272 cases and 2,468 deaths but it reached 4,656 cases on Friday, the highest daily figure since the pandemic started. Testing has also increased.

A total of 1,927 people are in hospital, with 275 in intensive care units (ICUs) - more than the April peak of 271.

The health 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.

The government will discuss potential new restrictions at an emergency meeting on Saturday.

“People should be more careful and they are not,” said Hugo Faria, who was also allowed to travel to a different municipality on Friday morning for work reasons. “Some people suffer the consequences because of others’ actions.”

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Additional reporting by Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by by Giles Elgood