LISBON, March 29 (Reuters) – Portugal on Monday extended a suspension of flights to and from Britain and Brazil until April 15, with only humanitarian and repatriation flights allowed, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The country, which has so far reported 16,837 COVID-19 deaths and 820,407 cases, suspended flights to and from Brazil and the UK in January to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants.

The new variant initially discovered in Britain was partly responsible for a devastating surge in cases at the start of 2021, putting hospitals under crippling strain. The situation has drastically improved since then.

Passengers allowed to return to Portugal from Britain or from Brazil, as well as from South Africa, must present a negative test taken a maximum of 72 hours before departure and quarantine for 14 days.

The ministry added passengers from other countries where the infection rate was equal or higher than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants would have to isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

A plan to gradually ease a nationwide lockdown imposed on Jan. 15 to tackle what then was the world’s worst coronavirus surge is now in force but authorities said they would take a step back if necessary. (Reporting by Patrícia Vicente Rua; Editing by Catarina Demony and Louise Heavens)

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