Portuguese business leaders, labour unions and doctors joined forces on Monday to pressure the government to reinforce public health measures in order to allow for a gradual loosening of the nationwide lockdown imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Antonio Costa and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the 167 signatories urged the government to make the use of face masks compulsory and install contactless dispensers with hand sanitiser in public spaces.
“The planning for the phasing out of the lockdown will demand additional containment measures to prevent new outbreaks that could lead to intermittent lockdown periods… It is urgent to increase public health containment measures,” they wrote.
Then the state of emergency should be gradually lifted, allowing the economy to return to normal levels of activity, they said.
Portugal has so far reported 16,934 coronavirus cases, with 535 deaths, far below levels seen in neighbouring Spain. The president has said he will propose extending the national lockdown, currently in place till April 17, to May 1.
In their letter, the signatories asked the government to test all suspected coronavirus cases within 24 hours of the first symptoms and introduce the widespread use of serological tests across the country to detect disease-fighting antibodies.
One of the proposed measures calls for the health authority to request from telecom operators the contact details of users infected with the coronavirus over the last 14 days. Based on geolocation data, authorities will then alert users who have been in the proximity of the infected person about the contagion risk via text message or phone call.
Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference on Monday that the priority was to “test more”, adding that a total of 179,000 coronavirus tests had been conducted since the beginning of March in the country of 10 million people.
“We’ve had encouraging results in the way we managed the pandemic,” Temido said. “Right now we have to take small but safe steps.”
Authorities said Portugal’s low case tally did not mean restrictions could be eased quickly.
Jorge Roque da Cunha, head of the Independent Union of Doctors, also questioned the reliability of official figures.
“There are failures in the reporting of cases,” he told the Observador newspaper. “It is not possible, in one week, that the whole region of Lisbon and Vale do Tejo only report 15 new cases.”