Portugal to ban domestic travel, close schools around national holidays


FILE PHOTO: A tram is pictured on the empty street during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Lisbon, Portugal October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal is to ban domestic travel and close schools around two upcoming holidays in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus ahead of Christmas, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Saturday.

Travel between municipalities will be banned from 11 p.m. on Nov. 27 to 5 a.m. on Dec. 2, and then again from 11 p.m. on Dec. 4 to 5 a.m. on Dec. 9, to prevent movement around national holidays on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8.

Schools will close on the Mondays before both holidays, while businesses must close early. Employers are being encouraged to give workers the day off in order to minimise travel activity.

"We continue to have a very high number of cases which is a threat to our health," Costa told a press conference. "We must persist to not only halt that growth rate but invert it."

Masks, already mandatory in public and enclosed commercial spaces, are now also mandatory in the workplace, Costa said. Checks will increase to ensure that those who can are working remotely.

A night-time curfew and weekend lockdown after 1 p.m. in 191 municipalities since Nov. 9 will continue in 174 municipalities with particularly high infection rates for a further two weeks.

Portugal reported 62 deaths and 6,472 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, mostly in the north of the country, bringing the total infections to 255,970 cases, with 3,824 deaths.

The number of cases has increased significantly since late September, with average daily rates rising from around 300 in the summer to 6,000 in recent weeks despite testing only increasing approximately three-fold, health ministry data shows.

The country, with around 10 million people, ranks seventh in Europe for the number of cumulative cases per 100,000 people and 14th for the number of new deaths, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control figures.

(This story fixes incorrect advisory line to conform with final paragraph, making clear that Portugal ranks seventh in Europe for cases and 14th for deaths)

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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