LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal downgraded its state of emergency to a category of “calamity” on Sunday, as spring sunshine drew people outdoors and the rate of new coronavirus cases reached its lowest since the beginning of the outbreak.
“It’s like being freed from prison,” enthused Rodrigo Garcia, 40, on a walk to Lisbon’s River Tagus with his wife, two sons and dog. “We’ve gone out here and there, but with the end of the state of emergency we feel much freer.”
After a six-week state of emergency when people were urged to stay indoors except for brief exercise, and most non-essential services were shut, a three-phase reopening plan begins from Monday..
But the temptation of 30 degree Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) temperatures and Mother’s Day had some taking to beaches and parks before then with newfound confidence. On Lisbon’s waterfront, runners and cyclists hopped out of each other’s way on Sunday morning.
Beaches remain closed other than for water sports and exercise, but under the lesser state of calamity spending time in parks is no longer strictly forbidden.
Still, police officers were out in force on Sunday urging people not to linger and to maintain social distancing.
“A state of calamity still means you should stay home as much as you can,” officer Sofia Gordinho told Reuters, between speaking to groups picnicking in Lisbon’s Campo Martires da Patria park about the new measures.
“If people want to sit in the sun for a bit, that’s okay, but we are asking them to move on so others can come without it getting crowded.”
Spared the huge tolls in neighbouring Spain and some other Western European nations, Portugal reported 25,282 cases of the new coronavirus on Sunday, just 0.4% more than the day before, and 1,043 deaths – in a population of 10 million people.
A new fund reimbursing microbusinesses for 80% of up to 5,000 euros ($5,490) of expenses on personal protective equipment and cleaning costs would be made available from May 11, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Sunday.
Vending machines selling masks, hand gel and gloves were installed in Lisbon and Porto subways, which will reopen most lines on Monday but at two thirds capacity.
As small neighbourhood shops open, masks will be obligatory in enclosed public spaces like supermarkets and on public transport from Monday onwards, with rule-breakers incurring fines of up to 350 euros.
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)