Parliament has authorised the renewal of the state of emergency until 31 March with no news as yet about when schools or businesses may reopen, although they have stated that Portugal is in a position to begin lifting lockdown measures.

The Minister of State and the Presidency, Mariana Vieira da Silva, said on 11 March that "Portugal today is in a position to start a process of lifting the lockdown measures".

In the Assembly of the Republic, at the end of the debate which concluded with the approval of the renewal of the state of emergency until 31 March, the Minister stressed that there are "reasons to face the future with more confidence" but said that the process that will be announced will be "slow and gradual".

“It is not a process that can correspond to any return to normality in the near future. It is a process that can only continue to advance in the calendars presented if we continue to comply with the health indicators. Only with small steps will we be able to take truly sustainable steps on this path,” she added.

Mariana Vieira da Silva underlined the way in which the Portuguese "fulfilled and had a great capacity to adhere to a set of very difficult measures for their lives" but insisted that the easing of lockdown must be "gradual and phased" and implies "permanent control" the indicators that the country presents in terms of incidence, rate of change and response capacity of the SNS

"Firstly, because the opening up of the country will lead to an increase in the number of cases, but also because we now have a number of new variants that had already proved to be more transmissible and which, we know today, are also of higher mortality," she said.

Vaccination process in progress

Mariana Vieira da Silva pointed out that there almost 1.1 million doses of vaccines have been administered and more than 300,000 people have already had both of the two doses.

“There is a vast majority of vaccinated health professionals, in a process that is still ongoing, and we will reach the end of this first quarter with more than 80 percent of those over 80 years old vaccinated, with vaccination moving fast for the over 50’s and also for those with underlying health issues, and essential workers.”, she highlighted.

Portugal will also reinforce the country’s testing capacities, "with rules to test all contacts of each positive person and not just the contacts at risk, and launching screenings whenever necessary, starting in schools as early as March".

Controlling the pandemic and supporting the economy

Mariana Vieira da Silva said that the Government has been "controlling the pandemic and supporting the economy" and that, if it were not so, Portugal would not have ended 2020 with an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent.

“The unemployment figures that Portugal has are proof that the measures to support the economy were the necessary measures, are the necessary measures and are naturally renewed and extended taking into account the sectors most affected by the crisis, such as tourism, culture, social sectors, restaurants and sports,” she continued.

State of emergency

On 11 March, parliament authorised the renewal of the state of emergency until 31 March to allow lockdown measures for covid-19 to be maintained, with the support of PS, PSD, CDS-PP and PAN.

Non-registered deputy Cristina Rodrigues also voted in favour. BE again abstained and PCP, PEV, Chega, Liberal Initiative and non-registered deputy Joacine Katar Moreira maintained the vote against this legal framework, which allows the suspension of the exercise of some rights, freedoms and guarantees.

The vote was identical to that seen in the four previous renewals of the state of emergency, approved in parliament and enacted by the President of the Republic since 13 January.

"The situation is evolving favourably, as a result of the measures taken under the state of emergency, but external signs are still complex and by imposing caution in the steps to be taken in the near future, it is understood that there are reasons to keep it in place for another 15 days, under the same terms as the last renewal ", reads the introduction of the diploma sent to parliament by the President of the Republic.

The draft presidential decree that renews the state of emergency maintains that a "phased plan for the reopening of schools" must be defined and now provides for it to be articulated with "testing, screening and vaccination".

On the other hand, in the rule that restricts the rights to emigrate or to leave the national territory and to return, and international circulation, a change was introduced to include "family reunification" in the "differentiated rules" that the Government can establish in this matter.

This is the 13th diploma of the state of emergency that Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa submits for authorisation from parliament in the current context of the 19-covid pandemic.

The current state of emergency period ends at 23:59 on Tuesday, March 16. The renewal approved today will take effect in the period between 17 and 31 March.

Fifteen days ago, the Prime Minister, António Costa, stated that on Thursday, March 11, the government would present a road map for coming out of lockdown.

Under the terms of the Constitution, it is incumbent on the President of the Republic to decree a state of emergency, for a maximum period of fifteen days, without prejudice to possible renewals, but for that he must listen to the Government and have authorisation from the parliament.

Under the state of emergency, the Government has imposed a general duty of home collection and the suspension of a series of activities since 15 January.

As of January 22, educational establishments were closed, first with a two-week school break, and then with distance classes.