Portugal is set to take its fight against the coronavirus pandemic to a new level, moving from a State of Alert to a State of Emergency.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa announced after a meeting of the State Council today that a State of Emergency would be decreed, and prime minister António Costa subsequently announced that the government supported the decision.
The move, following the declaration of a State of Alert last week, would suspend and/or restrict some constitutional rights and liberties, including the right to free movement.
Rebelo de Sousa, who earlier this month decided voluntarily to self-isolate for two weeks after learning that a student who attended an official event in the Palácio Nacional de Belém had been hospitalised, has State of Emergency authority under Article 138 of the Portuguese republic’s constitution. However, he is required to take into consideration the government’s view and request authorisation from the parliamentary Assembly – which is currently debating the draft decree.
The president argued that the declaration was “indispensable” to provide constitutional coverage for more comprehensive measures. While noting that major containment measures had already been adopted and enacted under the State of Alert, he said stronger powers were now required, as was the case in other European countries.
One of the key elements of the 15-day State of Emergency allows for possible compulsory confinement of citizens at home or in a health facility, and restrictions on unjustified circulation on public roads. Justified travel includes that considered necessary for professional activities or health care, or to assist third parties by supplying goods or services.
Restrictions can be imposed by the relevant public authorities to reduce the risk of contagion and implement prevention measures, and the government has the power to specify the circumstances and purposes of individual movement – ideally unaccompanied.
According to the draft decree, public authorities (in accordance with National Health Authority guidelines) may request the provision of any services, as well as the use of movable and immovable property, health care facilities, commercial and industrial establishments, companies and other production units.
The State can also determine the mandatory opening, or closure, and operation of companies, establishments and means of production; and limit or prohibit meetings or demonstrations due to the risks of COVID-19 being transmitted.
According to the Directorate-General for Health (DGS), 448 cases of COVID-19 infection were confirmed on Tuesday, a rise of more than 100 in 24 hours. The first confirmed death in Portugal, on Monday, was 80-year-old Mário Veríssimo, who reportedly suffered from lung disease and died at the Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon.
In all, 206 patients have been admitted to hospital, 17 in critical condition; there are 4,030 suspected cases; and 6,852 people are under surveillance by health authorities. The number of cases is reported to be higher in the northern region (196) followed by Lisbon and Vale do Tejo (180), the central area (51) and the Algarve (14).
Minister for health Marta Temido said Portugal had moved from the contention stage to the “exponential growth phase of the epidemic,” aligned with the situation in other European countries.