Portugal reopens border, eases coronavirus measures

A Spanish police officer checks a car at the border between Portugal and Spain in Portugal, on March 17, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

LISBON (AFP) - Portugal reopened its land border with Spain on Saturday (May 1) and began the final stage of its programme to ease Covid-19 restrictions.

The country was hit hard at the start of the year by a wave that saw 300 coronavirus deaths a day overwhelm hospitals.

But the measures have since helped bring the numbers down, with zero fatalities recorded on Friday for the second time in a week - the previous day without a Covid-19 death was in August.

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced the fourth and last stage of the deconfinement plan would begin on Saturday - two days earlier than had been planned.

As well as the lifting of the border controls, the opening hours for cafes, restaurants and cultural venues was extended, in particular at weekends.

Weddings and other gatherings would also be allowed again, albeit in venues limited to 50 per cent of their capacity, as will sporting activities.

Overnight the country's state of emergency was also downgraded to "situation of calamity," which still allows the authorities to keep some measures in place.

Ms Clara Nogueira was one of 400 people to attend a test concert in the north-western city of Braga on Friday evening.

"It gives me a feeling of rediscovered freedom," she said at the event, held outside with strict restrictions. "We will be able to unburden ourselves of the confinement we have lived through."

The head of one of the groups organising the event, Mr Alvaro Covoes, said he hoped it helped convince the authorities to continue easing measures in order to "save the summer" for the hard-hit entertainment industry.

Virologist Pedro Simas said the brutal epidemic that hit Portugal in the winter was also "one of the waves most quickly brought under control in the world".

Around 22 per cent of the Portuguese population of 10 million has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

While controls at the Spanish border have been lifted, the interior ministry announced "mobile controls" because travellers from countries with more than 500 cases per inhabitants - such as France - must quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

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