Parents want more child care cash as coronavirus shuts schools in Portugal

LISBON (Reuters) - A few hours after Portugal ordered schools to close next week due to the coronavirus outbreak, parents taking their kids to the last day of classes on Friday said they were relieved on health grounds but worried about how to make ends meet.

With his 11-year-old son peeking out from behind his back at a Lisbon school, 42-year-old Jorge Martins told Reuters he was happy with the new measure but the government should do more to compensate parents for child care costs.

Workers who have to stay at home to care for schoolchildren of up to 12 years of age will receive two thirds of their base salaries, the government said as it announced a 2.3 billion euros package to help businesses and employees.

“If a worker is home or if parents are unable to take care of their children and have to leave their jobs, an exceptional measure should guarantee 100% of the salary,” Martins said.

The suspension of classes covers the whole education system from kindergartens to universities, both public and private, and will be in force until a further evaluation on April 9.

Another father, 45-year-old Manuel Santos, said working parents were in a tricky situation as care centers were likely to close too, and leaving children with grandparents was also off the table for many due to contagion fears.

“It will be complicated, but as a society we have to turn this around,” he said.

There are about 2 million schoolchildren in Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people.

Portugal has so far reported 112 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, far below neighboring Spain, where La Vanguardia newspaper said there were about 4,000 cases and dozens of fatalities.

On Thursday, the government also announced cruise ships would not be allowed to disembark passengers except those living in Portugal, night clubs would be shut and there would be restrictions on numbers visiting shopping malls and restaurants.

“This is a fight for our very survival ... the government is determined to adopt every measure necessary,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood