Contagions will increase “but schools mustn’t close”, says PM

In Coimbra today ‘launching Portugal’s recovery’ (click here), prime minister António Costa stressed that the reopening of schools in two weeks’ time will be the “most important test” in the government’s strategy to combat the pandemic.

“Naturally, the risk of contagion will increase”, he said – but “schools cannot close, nor can we have the level of distance learning that the country had before the start of the summer holidays.

“There will always be an infected pupil or teacher”, he stressed. “But we have to ensure that that infected pupil isn’t the signal that the whole school should close.

“And a child unable to go to school cannot fall behind in his or her education. We must move towards the universalising of distance learning so that everyone has the same opportunities”.

If these two sentences seem to be mutually exclusive what Mr Costa seems to have been saying is that distance learning will remain ‘up and running’ for the pupils that do have to spend time away from face-to-face learning in the classroom for whatever reason. 

Meetings meantime on the wider focus of ‘getting Portugal back on track’ – or to quote the theme of today’s conference “Combating the pandemic, recovering the country, preparing the future” – will be going ahead with all parliamentary parties over the course of the next week.

Said the PM, the overriding necessity is to “pull the country out of recession”, but it can’t happen “all at once. Choices have to be made.

“The first choice is to reinforce the National Health Service”, he said – ensuring that Portugal’s capacity for intensive care “approaches the European average”.

That said (Portugal met the pandemic with one of the lowest per head ratios of intensive care beds in the bloc), the country has not so far needed more than 63% of the intensive care beds that it has for Covid patients.

Our capacity for testing is also to be increased, said Mr Costa, encouraging everyone to download the country’s new cell phone app “Stay away Covid”, to be officially presented tomorrow.

As for the second priority on the government’s horizon, this will be social housing. Said the PM, a plan for accessible rentals is being prepared, as are other “social responses” to a crisis that has thrown up so many new demands.

The bottom line, said Mr Costa, is that his party is “working to create the political conditions for the necessary stability to get all these programmes approved, launched and executed”.

By this he means that the PS is ready for what the media is calling Geringonça 2 – a new pact with left-wing parties Bloco de Esquerda, PAN, PEV and with luck PCP communists.

“This is a programme for Portugal”, Costa told his audience. “We need everyone to be involved”.

The subject of a new left-wing pact – and the consequences of not sealing one – has been filling national media over the past week, with Mr Costa’s message being a deal with the centre right is ‘out of the question’.

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