By Victoria Waldersee
LISBON (Reuters) - Surfboards, beach buckets and picnic baskets in tow, Portuguese flocked to the ocean in droves on Saturday for their first state-sanctioned beach weekend of the year.
"It's so great to see the sea and get some sun after two months," said Catarina, who arrived to Carcavelos Beach, half an hour from Lisbon, at 9 a.m. with her husband and daughter.
But despite her relief, Catarina wasn't sure this newfound freedom could last long.
"Most are behaving ... but there are a lot of groups, and that's what causes contagion, isn't it? I don't know, by next month I think we'll all be back in our homes," she said.
The nation of 10 million people has reported just 30,471 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 1,302 deaths, a small fraction of neighbouring Spain's 28,628 fatalities.
Restrictions imposed during a six-week state of emergency starting March 18 are being lifted in 15-day intervals, as long as the number of cases keeps falling.
As temperatures rose, people were itching to get back into the water. "Yesterday was already busy," Jose Primo, a waiter at a beach restaurant in Carcavelos, said. "But today, my God! It's chaos."
Some confusion was caused after Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced on May 15 beaches would open on June 6, but a government decree published two days later stated people could go to the beach from the beginning of this week.
A smartphone app due to be in operation from June 6 is supposed to help avoid crowding by warning which bathing spots are full. In the meantime people are anticipating crowds.
In southern Algarve, savvy beach-goers are reserving beach chairs and umbrellas ahead of time to secure their spot on the sand.
Rui Cardoso, owner of a beach business, told news agency Lusa: "You can really tell people are worried there'll be no space."
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Additional reporting by Miguel Pereira and Rafael Marchante; Editing by David Holmes)
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