Portugal moved Wednesday to declare a nationwide 15-day state of emergency to fight the spread of coronavirus, which will make it easier for the government to reduce people’s movements.
Parliament will later on Wednesday vote on a draft decree calling for a state of emergency that allows for some constitutional rights and freedoms to be suspended, such as the freedom of movement and the right to protest.
If the decree is passed as expected it will be the first time that a state of emergency has been declared in the country of around 10 million people since returned to democracy in the 1970s following years of rightist dictatorship.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the decree — which is expected to be approved by the assembly — would not impose a “mandatory curfew”.
“With the declaration of a state of emergency democracy is not suspended,” Costa told reporters following a cabinet meeting in which his government agreed to back President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s proposed decree.
The decree can be renewed once the initial 15-day period is over and Costa said it was not clear how long it would have to remain in place, warning the state of emergency could last several months.
The Portuguese president is scheduled to address the nation at 8 pm (2000 GMT) after parliament has voted on his proposed decree.
Portugal has so far reported 448 confirmed cases of coronavirus and two deaths but the government has warned that the number of infections in the country is expected to keep climbing “at least” until the end of April.
The country last week declared a state of alert over the outbreak to mobilise civil protection, police and the army in its efforts to control the spread of coronavirus.
It has already limited gatherings to no more than 100 people, shut schools and nightclubs and imposed restrictions on the number of people who can visit restaurants and limited visitors to retirement homes.
Earlier on Wednesday the government ordered the central city of Ovar, which is home to around 55,000 people, to be put on lockdown after about 30 people tested positive for coronavirus there.
Governments on every continent have implemented containment measures to contain the disease, which has infected more than 200,000 people and killed over 8,000 since it first emerged.