LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal extended on Thursday a nationwide lockdown until March 1 to tackle its worst surge of COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began as authorities scramble to relieve pressure on overstretched hospitals.
The country of just over 10 million fared better than other nations in Europe in the first wave of the pandemic, but 2021 brought a devastating surge in infections and deaths, in part blamed on the rapid spread of the British variant of the virus and the easing of restrictions over Christmas.
Nearly 14,900 people have died of COVID-19, with cumulative infections at 778,369.
Although the number of daily infections and deaths has been decreasing this month, a fragile health service is still struggling to treat the around 6,400 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care.
“The truth is that the country’s hospital capacity continues to be put to the test … so there is no alternative but to reduce cases,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wrote on his official website before parliament approved his proposal to extend the lockdown by another two weeks.
Portugal imposed its second lockdown since the initial outbreak in March-April 2020 on Jan. 15, shutting non-essential services and schools, and making remote work compulsory where possible.
Most measures are likely to remain the same but under a presidential decree issued on Wednesday the government could now decide to allow businesses to sell books and school supplies. It could also implement a noise control regulation to allow people to work from home without being disturbed.
(Reporting by Lisbon bureau; Writing by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and David Gregorio)