Portugal approves extension of COVID-19 emergency, fresh measures under discussion

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FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lisbon
FILE PHOTO: Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lisbon

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's parliament on Friday approved a 15-day extension of a state of emergency from next week to allow continuation of coronavirus measures as the government considers fresh steps.

"This approval reflects well the collective commitment to fight COVID-19," Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Twitter. "With the mobilisation of all we will be able to overcome the virus."

The nationwide state of emergency, which came into force for 15 days on Nov. 9 and included a night-time curfew and a half-day lockdown on weekend days across 191 of the country's 308 municipalities, will now be extended until at least Dec. 8.

Government ministers met on Friday afternoon to agree on new rules, which will be announced on Saturday and could include a tiered system of restrictions based on the state of the virus in each area.

Under Portuguese law, a state of emergency is limited to 15 days but can be extended indefinitely in 15-day periods. Internal Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita told parliament the state of emergency was likely to be renewed again after Dec. 8.

Portugal, with around 10 million people, has recorded 249,498 coronavirus infections and 3,762 deaths, relatively low figures compared to some European countries. But cases have been rising and are putting the health system under pressure.

Confirmed new infections hit 6,994 on Thursday, the highest daily figure since the pandemic started, with most of the cases concentrated across the country's northern region. Testing has also increased.

A total of 3,079 COVID-19 patients are now in hospital, with a new record of 481 in intensive care units - more than the first wave peak of 271 in April.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Frances Kerry)