LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s government tightened restrictions on movement to stop the spread of the coronavirus during the normally busy Easter holiday period, closing all airports to commercial flights and banning domestic travel from April 9-13.
“The virus doesn’t travel by itself,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters. “This Easter period is a particularly critical time and that’s why it is essential to restrict movement in the national territory.”
Between April 9 and 13, a popular period for Portuguese abroad to travel to visit their families, airports will be shut to commercial flights, and only flights repatriating citizens or transporting goods will be allowed to operate.
In addition, people will not be allowed to travel outside the municipalities where they live during the five-day period, except for work reasons.
After Easter, airports will reopen but flights will only be allowed to transport one third of their passenger capacity.
Costa said gatherings of more than five people were also banned, with the exception of larger families.
To avoid the spread of coronavirus in prisons, the government decided to give partial pardons to those facing two-year prison sentences or those who only have two years left behind bars.
Prisoners who committed violent crimes, such as homicide and domestic violence, will not be pardoned.
The measures were announced on the same day the country’s parliament approved the extension of a state of emergency by another 15 days as the number of deaths from coronavirus rose to over 200.
“If decreeing a state of emergency was necessary 15 days ago, it is essential that we renew it today,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told parliament. “All the effort we have made so far will be compromised if it does not continue.”
Portugal has confirmed 9,034 coronavirus cases and 209 deaths, with health authorities expecting the outbreak to plateau at the end of May.
Government measures to bolster the finances of families and businesses during the outbreak include support for salaries of workers whose jobs are on hold and credit lines for hard-hit industries like tourism, textiles and agriculture.
Still, lawmakers in Thursday’s debate appealed to companies and the financial sector to step up their support for families and businesses, with opposition leader Rui Rio stating it would be an “embarrassment” if banks posted profits in 2020 and 2021.
“Banks owe a lot to the Portuguese. Now it is their obligation to help,” he said. “They must not benefit from this crisis.”
Left-wing parties Left Bloc and the Communist Party flagged that workers were still being made to come to the office and many were losing their jobs despite government promises to prioritise keeping people in employment.
“We cannot allow the state of emergency to be a pretext for a law of the jungle in the lives and rights of workers,” said Communist lawmaker Joao Oliveira.
Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Sergio Goncalves, Catarina Demony and Patricia Rua, Editing by Catarina Demony and Ed Osmond
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