'Moment of joy': Portugal slowly emerges from lockdown

Catarina Demony
·2-min read
Mr. Jose poses for the picure in his reopened bookstore, as the government begins to ease the lockdown measures, which were introduced mid-January, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Lisbon

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) - Even behind the mask, 67-year-old Jose Pinho could not hide the happiness of seeing the first two customers walk into his Lisbon bookshop after a painful lockdown forced him to shut doors.

Pinho is relieved the Ler Devagar (Read Slowly) was among the few businesses allowed to reopen on Monday as the government slowly eases a lockdown imposed in mid-January to control what was then the world's worst coronavirus surge.

Though the pandemic has eased, better times are still a way off.

No crisis in recent history has hit Portugal's tourism-dependent economy as hard, with the country's GDP shrinking 7.6% last year, its biggest annual slump since 1936.

Pinho's bookshop, in an old factory-turned-creative hub, one of the city's coolest spots, is popular among tourists but they were nowhere to be seen and the streets were nearly deserted.

"There's a belief that never leaves me: this will end," Pinho told Reuters as he stood surrounded by books. "The problem is how long it will take and under what conditions we are going to live until then. That's the big drama."

Ler Devagar's revenues dropped 52% last year. But 2021 is hitting the business ever harder, Pinho said. Revenues collapsed 88% from the previous year between January and March.

"It could become a tragedy if we are not able to make it and have to shut," Pinho said, placing his hopes on vaccinations. "What motivates us is to think that ... it won't be another year."

'DEPRIVED'

Barber Bruno Oliveira was also delighted his four shops were given the green light to reopen but warned businesses would need courage to overcome the economic scars.

"It's a moment of joy, isn't it?," the 41-year-old said as he cut a client's hair. "The drop was brutal. In these two months, we earned nothing, not even a cent."

Many colleagues had to work illegally to survive, he said.

Portugal has suffered 814,257 cases and 16,684 deaths, but infection rates have slowed.

If the situation continues to improve, cinemas, shopping malls, restaurants and other non-essential businesses will reopen next month under strict rules.

Some schools also welcomed pupils again on Monday.

"Things we took for granted, like going to the barber, suddenly became very important because we were deprived of it," said one of Oliveira's clients Duarte Mendonça. "This helped us understand what is really important in our life and what isn't."

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)