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Portuguese economy grows 4.9% as COVID-19 rules ease

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Portugal’s economy expanded 4.9% in the second quarter from the preceding three months, driven by domestic demand as restrictions to control a surge in coronavirus infections were gradually eased and exports improved, data showed on Friday.

“The GDP recovery mainly reflects partial reopening (of the economy). The exporting industrial sector is experiencing a good moment … but the Delta variant once again harmed all sectors that depend on people’s mobility: hotels, restaurants, tourism and retail,” economist Filipe Garcia told Reuters.

Portugal started to ease COVID-19 restrictions from mid-March after a lockdown in January to tackle what was then the world’s worst coronavirus surge. Most businesses have now reopened.

In its flash estimate, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said the GDP growth is explained by the “highly positive contribution of domestic demand” and an improvement in exports of goods, which grew nearly 50% in the second quarter from a year ago.

GDP grew 15.5% between April and June from a year ago, when the country implemented the first major lockdown, affecting all sectors, INE said.

In the January-March period this year, GDP contracted 3.3% from the same period in 2020, and shrank 5.4% from the year before.

Garcia, who works at consultancy firm Informacao de Mercados Financeiros, said caution was needed as the GDP numbers “may seem very good and generate great optimism” but they compare with the worst moments of the pandemic.

The economy, in which the tourism sector represented around 15% of GDP before the pandemic hit, shrank 7.6% in 2020, its biggest annual decline since 1936. The government expects the economy to grow 4% this year.

Garcia sees the economy growing in the second half 2021, due to the gradual reopening and the EU recovery plan, but “the emergence of any (new) variant that is resistant to vaccination could jeopardise recovery”.