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Government moves to help businesses weather Covid-19 storm, tough measures in place

covid businessThe government have announced that they are hoping to help businesses weather the coronavirus epidemic with a 2.3 billion euros package, including delaying some tax payments and granting soft loans, while tougher measures to contain the spread have been put in place.

Companies will be allowed to suspend social security payments and maintain employees’ contracts with payments equal to two-thirds of salaries, funded largely by the state.

“The main problem is the lack of liquidity. What we can do is put money in companies’ treasuries so they can preserve their productive capacity and employment,” Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira said after an all-night cabinet meeting on Friday.

Portugal has so far fewer confirmed cases of the virus than the neighbouring Spain, where dozens of people have died, but the vital hotel sector has already been hit, with hundreds of millions of euros of revenue expected to be lost over the next four months.

On Thursday, the government ordered all schools to be shut from this week onwards to contain the epidemic, which Prime Minister Antonio Costa called a threat to survival.

Workers who have to stay at home to care for school children of up to 12 years of age will receive 66% of their base salaries, the government said.

Parents and unions have urged the government to pay workers full base salaries, arguing that two thirds is not be enough to make ends meet.

On Friday, the government led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa declared a “state of alert” until April 9th, when the situation will be reevaluated. But, in a video address, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is currently in voluntary quarantine at home despite testing negative for coronavirus, said he will call the state council for Wednesday to discuss if the country should declare a state of emergency.

“What needs to be decided, will be decided. Measures that need to be taken, will be taken,” Rebelo de Sousa said.

According to Portuguese law, a state of emergency can only be declared if there is an “imminent” or “serious threat”, and can only last up to 15 days, which can then be extended. If declared, it would mainly limit people’s movements nationwide.

All events held in close spaces with more than 1,000 people have been prohibited, as well as all events held in open spaces with over 5,000 people.

Those who fail to obey the new measures, which will come into force when the clock strikes midnight on Friday, will be punished, added prime-minister Costa.