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From custard tarts to berry fields, Portuguese firms struggle under coronavirus - Metro US

From custard tarts to berry fields, Portuguese firms struggle under coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walks at Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon

LISBON(Reuters) – It might be a while before Lisbon’s most famous custard tart shop is packed with customers again.

Pasteis de Belem has been baking the creamy, hand-made pastries since the 19th century, lately selling 20,000 tarts a day, but the countrywide lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak has forced it to close at least until May.

“Even if we did takeaway or delivery, we’d sell perhaps two hundred now,” Chief executive Miguel Clarinha told Reuters, adding that he did not expect tourists to return this year, and doubted revenues would be back to normal before 2022.

While Clarinha says his establishment can “hold up”, he fears for the small enterprises with less than 10 staff that make up 96% of Portuguese businesses.

The government has offered help to companies but the aid is mostly loans and some businesses are closing their doors as they fear they will not be able to repay debts.

Gabriela Fitas, who opened a tiny traditional Portuguese restaurant on the outskirts of Lisbon seven years ago, has decided to turn off the ovens.

“I don’t have savings and don’t know when I can open again,” Fitas, 56, told Reuters. “I’m going back to my parents’ house to think about what I’m going to do with my life.”

Portugal has seen 13,141 confirmed coronavirus cases and 380 deaths, well below neighbouring Spain.

The Bank of Portugal has forecast that the country’s economy will shrink between 3.7% and 5.7% in 2020.

The Socialist administration’s support schemes include help for furloughed workers, who are entitled to two-thirds of their wages, of which the state will pay 70%.

Firms in industries like tourism, textiles, agriculture and commerce can apply for new credit lines worth 4.2 billion euros. Rents have been suspended until a month after the state of emergency, declared on March 18, comes to an end.

But many companies still recovering from the financial crisis of the early 2010s fear that will not save them.

Between 2008 and 2012, a net total of around 200,000 firms closed down in the aftermath of the crash.

By 2018, new enterprises mostly in agriculture and tourism – industries ill-suited to a crisis confining people indoors – were just about recovering to pre-2008 levels.

“We survived the last crisis, but this is a different kind. Around 40% of our market has already disappeared,” said Luis Pinheiro, head of an association of berry growers.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee and Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood)

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