Portugal extends state of emergency amid record daily COVID cases

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LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal approved on Wednesday an extension of a state of emergency as the daily number of COVID-19 cases in the nation of around 10 million people reached a record high of 10,027, putting increasing pressure on the health system.

Portugal, which has so far registered 446,606 cases and 7,377 deaths from the virus, eased restrictions around Christmas but cracked down again on New Year’s Eve with a ban on travel between municipalities and public gatherings.

But the number of cases is rising fast, with Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa saying over the weekend he was worried about the increase in infections after the holiday season.

To tackle the outbreak, lawmakers gave the green light to an extension of a state of emergency, which ends on Thursday, for an additional week until Jan. 15.

Measures now in place include an overnight curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a half-day lockdown, from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m., over the weekend across many of the country’s municipalities.

“There’s again immense pressure on the national health service and we are trying to respond.” Health Minister Marta Temido told reporters at a time when more than 500 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units. “We need everyone’s help.”

To ease pressure, Temido ordered on Wednesday hospitals in the Lisbon area to suspend non-urgent medical services and adopt their contingency plans to fight the outbreak.

“The next few days are going to be very tough,” she said.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Gareth Jones