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Portugal on Monday started easing some of the lockdown restrictions in place since mid-January and reopening kindergartens and elementary schools, hair salons and bookstores. However, it insisted on exercising caution to avoid a renewed surge in coronavirus infections.

“Today we are starting the first phase of lifting the ban, but it has to be done very carefully and gradually,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa tweeted.

And that meant “not going out and doing whatever we want like we’re not in the middle of a major pandemic,” Costa said.

“We can’t take any chances and lose everything.”

After the Portuguese hospitals were overwhelmed by an explosion in Covid-19 cases following the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the government imposed a second general lockdown and closed schools a week later.

But on Monday, after almost two months of school closure, children under nine were allowed to return to the classroom.

Reopening schools is “extremely important to the (children’s) future because they don’t study much in front of the computer at home,” said one mother, Jessica Madalena, when she dropped her two children in an elementary school in Amadora, west of Lisbon.

Simultaneously with the gradual reopening, the government is relying on mass tests in schools, with teachers and staff determining priority groups for vaccination.

“Vaccination should start this weekend, March 20-21,” Health Minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues told Antena 1 Radio, referring to the vaccination of teachers and school staff.

Amid the gradual easing of restrictions, people are still being asked not to go out until after the Easter weekend (April 3-4) when more schools, terraces, public monuments and museums reopen.

Universities, theaters and concert halls will then reopen from mid-April, followed by restaurants and sports facilities from the beginning of May.

After peaking at 13,000 daily cases in late January, the average daily number of infections over a seven-day period in Portugal fell below 600 on Sunday for the first time since mid-September.

And the number of people hospitalized this weekend fell below 1,000 for the first time since mid-October.

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Quote: Portugal is starting to gradually relax the lockdown (2021 March 15), accessed from on March 15, 2021

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