New COVID-19 lockdown to come into force in Portugal from Friday

LISBON (Reuters) - A new lockdown to bring record high coronavirus cases under control will come into force in Portugal from Friday, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced, urging people to stay indoors and protect themselves.

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“We are at the most dangerous moment (of the pandemic),” Costa told reporters on Wednesday. “The rule is simple: all of us should stay home.”

The rules will be similar to the six-week lockdown imposed between March and April last year during the first wave of the pandemic, except all schools - public and private - will stay open. The number of cases reported from schools was not significant in the first lockdown, Costa said.

Restrictions on movement will also be eased on the day of Portugal’s presidential elections on Jan. 24 so voters can go to the polls.

As per last March’s rules, all non-essential businesses, including hair salons, will be closed, although restaurants will be allowed to provide takeaway services. Supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries, petrol stations, and banks will stay open.

Business with employees on furlough will receive state support.

Remote working will be compulsory where possible. To ensure compliance with new measures, fines for breaking the rules will double.

Under Portuguese law regulations must be reviewed every 15 days but Costa said on Wednesday these rules would likely last a month.

The country of 10 million people has so far reported a total of 8,236 deaths and 507,108 cases, with a steep surge in infections after Christmas placing severe pressure on the health care system.

Portugal has already vaccinated 82,000 people against the new coronavirus, giving priority to frontline health workers as well as care home residents.

“The hope the vaccine gives us that we can beat the pandemic is the same hope which feeds the relaxation that makes the pandemic more dangerous,” Costa said, adding the lockdown would not interfere with the vaccination process.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee; Additional reporting by Miguel Pereirad; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis