Portugal flattens coronavirus curve, but too early to reopen economy

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's coronavirus curve has flattened but the good news is still not enough for the country to lift lockdown measures and reopen its tourism-dependent, export-oriented economy, government ministers said on Wednesday.

Reuters April 16, 2020 00:13:45 IST
Portugal flattens coronavirus curve, but too early to reopen economy

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LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's coronavirus curve has flattened but the good news is still not enough for the country to lift lockdown measures and reopen its tourism-dependent, export-oriented economy, government ministers said on Wednesday.

Portugal has so far reported 18,091 cases and 599 deaths, far below more populous Spain, where more than 18,000 people have died. Health Secretary Antonio Sales said Portugal's coronavirus death rate is 5.5% per 100,000 people, lower than in most European nations.

Sales said told a news conference the curve flattened due to the "excellent behaviour and civism of the Portuguese people" who obeyed lockdown rules imposed by the government from March 18.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will extend the nationwide lockdown until May 1.

Though the developments are positive, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said earlier on Wednesday the time to "gradually and progressively" reopen the economy had yet to come.

"We can only resume activities when we have the needed certainty and comfort, and sufficient confidence in society, that by reopening it we don't increase the risk of contamination beyond what is controllable," Costa told RTP television.

Costa made his comments a day after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Portugal's economy will contract by 8% this year, way above the central bank's predictions last month of a drop between 3.7% and 5.7%.

The unemployment rate that has been falling for several years as the country slowly recovered from a severe debt crisis, should more than double to 13.9% this year, the IMF said, expecting the budget deficit to spike to 7.1% after a surplus of 0.2% in 2019 - Portugal's first in 45 years of democracy.

The massive gap in the number of cases and mortality rate between Portugal and other countries is hard to explain. Some experts and doctors have pointed to the fact that Portugal restricted movement of people early on, when cases were still in their hundreds and with just two deaths.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Sergio Goncalves and Victoria Waldersee, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)

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