Portugal is to shut all schools and universities from Friday, its prime minister has said, as the more transmissible strain of Covid-19 first detected in the UK takes hold, putting the health service under enormous pressure.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced the new emergency measures in Lisbon on Thursday as coronavirus cases soared, pushing Portugal’s national health system (SNS) to the verge of collapse.
Health officials announced a new record daily death toll for the country on Thursday, reporting 221 fatalities, along with a further 14,647 new cases – up from 10,455 the day before. To date, 9,686 people have died from the disease there since the start of the pandemic.
“We have a civic duty to reinforce our lockdown,” Costa said, warning that the new variant could account for some 60 percent of new cases in the coming weeks.
It currently accounts for about 20 percent of cases, while last week, only roughly eight percent of infections were linked to the UK strain.
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“In the face of this new variant and the velocity of its transmission we must exercise caution and interrupt all school activities for the next 15 days,” Costa said.
Last Friday, the Portuguese government imposed lockdown restrictions that included shutting all non-essential services, urging people to stay home, and limiting shopping hours, while creches, schools and universities had remained open.
Doctors working in Portugal’s hospitals say they are exhausted and in despair dealing with the new caseloads. “The gravity of the situation is clear for everyone to see,” Health Minister Marta Temido said on Wednesday night.
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