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Portugal imposes tougher COVID-19 measures as virus spreads

LISBON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Tougher measures will be adopted in Portugal from Thursday onwards to contain record levels of new coronavirus cases, including stricter limits on gatherings and heavier penalties for rule-breaking establishments.

“I know many people are tired of the restrictions,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference on Wednesday.

“I also know many people, particularly the young, have a false perception that COVID-19’s risks are lower for them. But this perception is an illusion. COVID-19 carries a risk for you but it also carries an enormous risk of transmission to others,” he said.

From Thursday, gatherings will be limited to five people. Weddings and baptisms can be attended by a maximum of 50, but university parties will be banned.

Fines for businesses which do not comply with the rules will be doubled from an upper limit of 5,000 to 10,000 euros.

Costa will also submit a proposal to parliament to make face masks compulsory in crowded outdoor spaces, and use of the government’s tracing app StayAway Covid compulsory for some workforces.

The government is not afraid of imposing further restrictions if the spread of the coronavirus outbreak doesn’t slow, Costa said.

“We are not going to prohibit husband and wife from kissing,” Costa jokingly said. “The duty we have is to protect ourselves but the indisputable duty is to protect others.”

Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people, initially won praise for its quick response to the pandemic, recording a comparatively low 90,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,110 deaths.

But the country reported over 1,000 new cases in a single day for the first time since April last week and hit a record high of 1,646 cases on Saturday, in line with the rise in cases across Europe after a summer lull.

The pandemic is set to leave lasting scars on the Portuguese economy, with the government predicting gross domestic product to contract 8.5% this year. (Reporting by Catarina Demony, Sergio Goncalves and Victoria Waldersee; Writing by Catarina Demony; Editing by Victoria Waldersee and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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