Portugal imposes overnight curfew on New Year's Eve to cut spread of coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A person wearing a protective mask stands during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in downtown Lisbon, Portugal, December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

LISBON (Reuters) - An overnight curfew from 11 p.m. will come into force in Portugal on New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday, as the government introduces measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus during the usually busy night.

“We have to totally cut out on New Year celebrations,” Costa told reporters after a video meeting with ministers, adding that people would not be allowed to leave their homes between 1 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3.

Two weeks ago, Costa had said people would be able to return home before a 2 a.m. curfew on New Year’s Eve. But a previously announced reevaluation of measures took into consideration the current pandemic situation and forced the government to take a step back.

“The number of cases per week are dropping but not as fast as they were before,” Costa said, explaining the government decided to toughen New Year’s Eve measures so rules over Christmas were not as severe.

There is no limit on how many people can gather per household for Christmas and a ban on domestic travel will not be imposed between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.

“Christmas celebrations have to be carried out with the utmost care,” he said, urging people to avoid poorly ventilated spaces and to use face masks during family gatherings whenever possible.

After a relatively mild first wave of the disease compared with countries such as Spain or Italy, Portugal has had a record number of infections and deaths during the second wave though the daily tally has dropped slightly in recent weeks.

Portugal, which has a population of just over 10 million, has recorded 362,616 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5,902 deaths.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool