Portugal set to quarantine arrivals from abroad as streets empty out

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s health authority announced on Friday that from next week anyone entering the country from abroad must self-quarantine for 14 days as its number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed the 1,000 mark.

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Regional authorities will be allowed to make exceptions in lower-risk situations.

“Today we will announce a new rule. From next week, whoever enters Portugal must stay in isolation for 14 days,” Graca Freitas, head of the DGS health directorate, told a news conference.

She did not specify exactly when the measure would come into effect or whether breaking it would be considered a crime.

Other countries across the globe, from Singapore to Israel, have adopted similar preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Health authorities in the region where people are arriving will be allowed to conduct a more precise evaluation of the risk and make exceptions,” Freitas said.

Portugal has 1,020 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with six reported deaths, far below other southern European countries such as Italy and Spain.

Portugal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to combat the outbreak, closing non-essential businesses and implementing capacity restrictions for those remaining open.

On Friday, people queued at pharmacies and supermarkets, one meter apart on otherwise deserted streets, stocking up on food and medicine.

But some of the elderly were not happy they had to wait alongside everybody else.

“They are not protecting the elderly at all,” 77-year-old Manuel Vidigal told Reuters. “They are not protecting us because we are still queuing. We don’t have priority.”

People aged over 70 were urged only to leave home to grab essential goods. All other citizens should avoid leaving their homes but can go to work, assist their families and accompany minors for recreation, among other essential activities, the government said.

The health ministry expects cases of the virus to rise exponentially until at least the end of April.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee, Additional reporting by Patricia Rua, Editing by Angus MacSwan