Portugal approves extension of COVID-19 emergency as Christmas approaches

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: A Christmas tree is seen at Comercio square in downtown Lisbon

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's parliament on Friday approved a 15-day extension of a state of emergency to Dec. 23 under a decree that envisages a further extension into January, as the government prepared measures to limit COVID-19 contagion during the holiday season.

The nationwide state of emergency to tackle the second wave of the virus initially came into force on Nov. 9 and will now likely stay in place at least until Jan. 7.

Parliament can only authorise extensions of 15 days, but in his decree, which lawmakers approved on Friday, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had made clear the extension until January was on the cards.

That, he said, was necessary to allow the government to "adopt needed rules to contain the spread of COVID-19 and announce measures for Christmas and New Year periods".

The current state of emergency includes a night-time curfew and a half-day lockdown on weekend days across most of the country. A domestic travel ban also came into force around two public holidays, on Dec. 1. and Dec. 8., raising the prospects of a similar ban on Christmas.

Government ministers will meet on Friday evening to agree on new rules, which will be announced on Saturday.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa told Observador radio that Christmas "would not be the same" but the government planned to ease some rules. Observador said travel between regions would not be prohibited on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

However, stricter rules were likely to be introduced to avoid large gatherings on New Year's Eve and Costa said there will be restrictions.

After a relatively mild first wave of the disease compared with countries such as Spain or Italy, Portugal has suffered record number of infections and deaths during the second wave but the daily tally of cases has dropped slightly over the past few days.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Alistair Bell)