LISBON (Reuters) – Pedro Costa’s eyes sparkled with joy as Portugal on Monday entered the second phase of easing its COVID-19 lockdown, allowing him to at last welcome back loyal customers to his tiny coffee kiosk in the heart of Lisbon.
“This lockdown was more painful but it is positive we are reopening,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s the best day: the restart. It’s time to move forward and I hope we will not need to take a step back.”
Portugal imposed a lockdown in January to control what was then the world’s worst COVID-19 surge, but strict rules have been gradually relaxed since March 15, when hair salons, bookshops and schools for younger pupils reopened.
On Monday, cafe and restaurant terraces, museums, non-food markets and fairs, small shops, middle schools and gyms were allowed to open their doors.
At Lisbon’s Lemonfit gym, coordinator Joana Silva, 33, was delighted to help people get back in shape after more than two months of lockdown.
“The impact the coronavirus had on gyms was devastating,” Silva said, as the first to return trained behind her. “We are still assessing it but it was undoubtedly disastrous, not only on a financial level but also physical and psychological.”
Gym-lover Iolanda, who used to go to the Lemonfit gym five times a week, could not agree more.
“It was my routine and all of a sudden that routine ended and we were stuck home so it wasn’t easy,” she said.
Portugal has suffered 823,355 cases and 16,879 deaths, but infection rates have slowed.
If the situation continues to improve, cinemas, shopping malls, restaurants’ indoor spaces and other non-essential businesses will reopen in two weeks’ time.
Parents were also happy to see their children return to classes.
“It’s a relief because online classes are not easy for them,” said 35-year-old Vania Azevedo standing outside a Lisbon school with two of her kids. “It has been stressful.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Barbara Lewis)