Government suspends water, electricity shutoffs and releases some prisoners amid COVID-19 outbreak
Parliament have temporarily suspended electricity, water and gas shutoffs, and granted partial pardon to some prisoners on Wednesday, as the country moved to contain the economic and social damage of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Until a month after the end of the state of emergency, called on March 18th to prevent the spread of the virus and extended last week to at least April 17th, electricity, water, and gas cannot be shut off, easing pressure on families throughout the country who are struggling to pay their bills.
Government data shows over 4,000 people registering at job centres per day in the first week of April and an increase in unemployment of 28,000 in March as the country’s export-driven, tourism-dependent economy reels from the sudden drop in demand.
Also on Wednesday, the Assembly of the Republic voted to grant partial pardon to prisoners with pre-existing health conditions, up to two-year sentences or less than two years left behind bars, in a move aimed at decongesting prisons to minimise risk in the event of any possible prison outbreak. Prisoners given sentences longer than six months who have served a quarter of their time, normally allowed three days leave, will be granted 45 days.
“The virus would spread like a fuse in a prison,” justice minister Francisca Van Dunem said. “A decent state does not leave any of its citizens behind, even if they are prisoners.”
Those convicted of homicide, sexual violence, physical abuse, or association with criminal networks will remain in prison, as well as anyone who committed a crime while in public office, from politicians to police officers.
Portugal, currently in the third week of the nationwide state of emergency, has so far reported 13,956 confirmed coronavirus cases and 409 deaths, a relatively low toll, especially compared with neighbouring Spain and Italy.
Earlier on Wednesday, the national hotel association AHP reported that around 85% of hotel workers in Portugal will be temporarily laid off in April due to the impact the virus is having on the country’s economy. AHP also said the hotel industry could lose 80% to 90% of its revenues, or up to 1.4 billion euros between March and June if the novel coronavirus continues to spread.
Portugal typically attracts millions of foreign visitors annually, and the tourism sector, accounting for nearly 15% of gross domestic product, was a staple in aiding the recovery from the 2010-14 debt crisis.