By Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s lockdown, which shut most non-essential services last month to contain the spread of the coronavirus, will be lifted gradually from May 3, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Tuesday.
“What matters in this new phase is that the Portuguese know that containment remains important so we must take small steps and constantly evaluate,” he told a news conference.
Portugal has reported 24,322 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 948 deaths, while in neighbouring Spain more than 23,000 people have died.
The country declared a state of emergency on March 18 when the death toll was just two, with around 642 confirmed cases. It has conducted 370,000 coronavirus tests since March 1, one of the highest testing rates worldwide.
Even before the state of emergency was imposed, the government closed schools and nightclubs, banned gatherings of large groups, suspended flights to Italy and halted tourism with Spain.
Some restrictions will remain in place, Rebelo de Sousa said. “The end of the state of emergency is not the end of the outbreak, it’s not the end of control,” he said.
The full plan will be announced on April 30.
Newspaper Publico reported on Sunday that small neighbourhood shops will reopen on May 4, while childcare centres and big shopping malls will open on June 1.
On April 18, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said he hoped to relax restrictions on schools, stores, restaurants and cultural spaces from May but to do so would require new rules to keep people safe.
There may also be limits on the number of people visiting beaches, usually crowded during the summer, Costa said.
At the time, he said it was not yet clear when events, such as music festivals, could take place but that cinemas might reopen sooner under new restrictions.
Portuguese football league matches might be able to go ahead but behind closed doors or only allowing season ticket holders to attend matches.
Costa said on Monday the widespread use of protective equipment would be essential as the economy reopens and people start leaving their homes.
The pandemic is set to leave lasting scars on Portugal’s once bailed-out economy. The International Monetary Fund predicted the country’s gross domestic product will contract by 8% this year.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves, Editing by Janet Lawrence)