LISBON (Reuters) – With Easter just around the corner, Portugal’s government urged people on Tuesday to keep up the fight against the coronavirus, which has already infected thousands across the country, and told them to stay home during the usually busy holiday period.
“We are in an important phase in the fight against the pandemic,” Diogo Cruz, deputy director of health authority DGS, told a news conference. “Easter is approaching but we ask everyone to keep following containment measures. We know it’s difficult.”
Portugal has so far reported 12,442 confirmed coronavirus cases and 345 deaths, a relatively low toll, especially compared to neighbouring Spain, which has seen nearly 14,000 fatalities, second only to Italy worldwide.
Cases are expected to plateau at the end of May, Portuguese health authorities have said.
Portugal declared a 15-day nationwide state of emergency on March 18, which was extended last Thursday until April 17.
Last week the government tightened restrictions during the Easter holiday period, closing all airports to commercial flights and banning domestic travel from April 9-13.
Portugal’s tourism-dependent, export-driven economy is wilting from the sudden drop in global demand, with over 30,000 companies applying for government support to pay half a million workers as their activities grind to a halt.
Portugal will boost its credit lines for businesses struggling with the coronavirus outbreak to 4.2 billion euros on Wednesday, the government said, after a state aid package from the European Commission helped shore up the country’s finances.
Companies have so far applied for 90 million euros of an original 3 billion in credit announced by the government two weeks ago. That credit is targeted towards the tourism sector, hotels, restaurants, and traditional industries such as textiles, clothing and timber.
After the Commission announcement on Saturday that it would offer a package worth 13 billion euros to Portugal, the government said it would increase its credit lines by a further 1.2 billion from Wednesday onwards.
The additional funds are earmarked for firms in the commerce and services sector, Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira told a news conference late on Monday. Freight and passenger transport will also be added to the list of eligible sectors, he added.
The Commission has also announced multi-billion-euro state support packages for Greece and Poland.
The opposition party PSD argued on Monday that the government should expand credit lines to 10 billion euros and make all companies eligible regardless of their sector.
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee and Catarina Demony, Editing by Catarina Demony and Gareth Jones)