Portugal set to shut schools as pandemic worsens


Portugal's government is set to shut down all schools across the country to tackle a steep worsening of the pandemic, Lusa news agency and Public newspaper said on Thursday.

Under a lockdown that started last week, all non-essential services are already shut and people urged to stay home. But the government had so far decided to keep schools open, a move criticised by the opposition and health experts.

Parents' groups and students had also urged the government to close schools immediately over fear of outbreaks.

Kindergartens, schools and universities across the nation will shut from Friday, forcing the country's 2 million students to stay home, Lusa and Publico reported. The announcement is expected at around 1300 GMT.

Portugal is the country with the highest rolling average of new cases and deaths per million inhabitants over the last seven days, according to ourworldindata.org.

The government has blamed the increase in cases to the more contagious variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain, which is spreading rapidly across Portugal, but health experts also point out to a lack of preparation and say there is not enough medical staff.

Around 20% of new COVID-19 cases being reported are of the more transmissible variant and that number could reach 60% as early as next week, pressure the health service at a time hospitals are struggling to cope with the surge.

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