LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal is preparing to gradually lift some lockdown measures next month as the coronavirus outbreak slows, with small neighborhood shops, hairdressers and childcare centers likely to be first on the list to re-open.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa told parliament on Thursday that he wanted those services to resume next month and associations representing Portugal’s personal care sector said on Friday they were preparing measures to be able to reopen hairdressers and beauty salons.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a statement encouraging students to take up jobs in agriculture with the promise of no income tax on earnings up to 2,194 euros during the summer holidays, after producers of berries and other fruits expressed concerns about a lack of manual labor in the run-up to the harvest season.
Workers temporarily furloughed from their jobs during the coronavirus crisis can also apply to work in the fields, the ministry said.
Portugal declared a state of emergency on March 18 as the coronavirus spread and on Thursday extended it until May 2. The country has so far reported 19,022 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and 657 deaths, although that is well below hard-hit neighboring Spain.
Over the next 15 days most non-essential businesses will remain shut, and restrictions on movement and gatherings will still be in place.
“Only with this effort in the next two weeks, we will be able to reach what is the aspiration of all Portuguese: a gradual, progressive return to normality in May,” Internal Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita said on Friday.
The government also on Friday extended the suspension of flights to and from outside the European Union by 30 days until May 17.
But some businesses are slowly resuming production, including car parts’ makers in northern Portugal who are among the country’s top exporters and collectively employ over 12,000 workers.
Bosch, Continental Mabor and Volkswagen’s <VOWG_p.DE> Autoeuropa plant will all resume production in factories by the end of April, albeit with workers operating in shifts and under strict health and safety regulations.
On Friday, the government also imposed a 15% maximum limit on profit businesses can make selling protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, as well as hand sanitizer.The move follows a promise by Prime Minister Costa on Thursday that the government would ensure masks and hand gel were available en masse in the coming fortnight.
“It is fundamental to give the Portuguese the confidence to leave their homes and for this we must make means of protection abundant,” Costa said.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Sergio Goncalves and Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Susan Fenton)