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Portugal grants asylum seekers access to public services during coronavirus outbreak

PORTUGAL’S socialist government has taken steps to ensure that asylum-seekers and other migrants are treated as permanent residents, opening up access to the country’s public services during the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the plans, existing applicants will be able to access Portugal’s national health service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, work and rental contracts.

The measures will come into force today and are expected to last until at least July 1.

 “People should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not yet been processed,” Ministry of Internal Affairs spokeswoman Claudia Veloso said.

“In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed.”

The announcement on Saturday also has the aim of reducing contact between border control staff and asylum applicants.

According to official figures, there are about 580,000 immigrants in Portugal; 135,000, mainly Brazilians, were granted residency last year.

The country has recorded 5,170 cases of coronavirus with 100 known deaths while in neighbouring Spain nearly 6,000 people have died after contracting Covid-19.

But health authorities remain cautious, with Portugal not expected to reach its peak number of cases until the middle of May.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa declared a nationwide state of emergency earlier this month, granting the government powers to implement far-reaching measures to fight the outbreak.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa insisted it was necessary to contain the spread of coronavirus, with the country’s residents asked to stay indoors and all non-essential activity brought to a halt.

The restrictions are set to be reviewed on Thursday, with the measures likely to be extended.

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