Portugal will test 500 asylum seekers for the coronavirus and move some into apartments left empty by tourists, after an outbreak at an immigrant hostel last week prompted scrutiny of overcrowded conditions that could lead to contagion.

Portugal is housing 800 asylum seekers in hostels across the country while they wait for their applications to be processed. A single case at one hostel in Lisbon last week prompted all 175 residents to be tested, revealing that 138 had contracted the virus.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said on Sunday it was planning to ‘take advantage of the reduced pressure on the housing market in the capital’ to move some asylum seekers to hostels and apartments left empty because of the lack of tourists this summer.

Applications for asylum increased in Portugal nearly threefold in the past five years to 1,716 in 2019.

The Council for Refugees (CPR), responsible for housing people while their applications are being processed, has capacity for just 150, and puts up the remaining applicants in hostels or social housing.

CPR head Monica Farinha told Reuters she was concerned that the conditions of the hostels, with several people to a room, meant there was a high risk of contagion.

Health minister Marta Temido said on Sunday that a study of nearly 3,000 of the country's 23,864 cases indicated that co-habitation and contagion in concentrated spaces such as care homes and the Lisbon hostel were the top causes of transmission of the disease.

The country is preparing to ease a lockdown imposed on March 18 and currently in place until May 2, but the health minister urged people to remember that social distancing measures would need to continue to avoid a resurgence in cases.

Related Story