(Adds details, background about coronavirus situation in Portugal)
LISBON, March 10 (Reuters) - Portugal on Tuesday suspended all passenger flights to and from Italy for 14 days starting on Wednesday as a preventative measure to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The move came a day after Portugal’s government initially suspended flights to Italy’s most affected northern regions. It expanded the suspension to the whole country due to the “evolution” of coronavirus there, a government statement said.
The government also said the measure followed Italy’s drastic decision to impose a nationwide lockdown to slow Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus.
A total of 631 people have died in Italy due to the coronavirus and there are 10,149 confirmed cases, far more than in Portugal, where the number of cases is just 41 and no deaths have been reported so far.
Even though Portugal does not have a significant number of cases, the government has implemented a series of preventative measures.
“For the Portuguese, and for most Europeans, this is a difficult time,” Portugal’s health minister Marta Temido told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
In Felgueiras and Lousada, northern municipalities where most of Portugal’s confirmed coronavirus cases are concentrated, schools and public spaces were shut down on Sunday.
Portugal’s government will on Wednesday evaluate a potential nationwide school shutdown to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The University of Lisbon and the University of Coimbra - one of Europe’s oldest - suspended all in-person classes on Monday as a precaution.
Erasmus student Katie McHenry, from Northern Ireland, told Reuters the measure to suspend classes at her university in Lisbon was a “little extreme” but “appropriate” to stop the coronavirus from spreading “as rapidily as it has in other countries”.
Portugal’s flag carrier TAP has already suspended 3,500 flights scheduled between this month and May, and several large events across the country have been canceled or postponed.
The country’s booming tourism industry is already taking a toll from coronavirus cancellations. (Reporting by Andrei Khalip, Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee, Editing by William Maclean)