Algarve beaches 2020: six deaths, 121 swimmers ‘saved’

Lifeguards in the Algarve are finally about to hang up their whistles and pack away their floats after an extremely complicated summer filled with new restrictions and a very unhabitual level of tension. The end result however was six deaths on the region’s beaches, with 121 swimmers ‘saved’ (including the two girls rescued by none other than President Marcelo click here).

Bizarrely, reports detailing the deaths describe the riptide fatality on the west coast beach of Castalejo in August as one ‘on an unsupervised beach’. This is technically correct (the beach had no lifeguard this summer) but it belies the truth that this was the first summer in years that Castalejo was left so vulnerable. The reason: authorities ‘dithering’ due to Covid-19 (click here). There should indeed have been lifeguard cover. Many still consider it outrageous that there wasn’t.

Other loss of life was reported in Praia das Furnas, Vila do Bispo- a 30-year-old Belgian, again caught in a riptide, and further east two swimmers died from what was termed ‘a sudden illness’ while in the water.

The final two deaths were recorded as from ‘causes unknown’. These may have included the ‘mystery body’ discovered in June on Monte Clérigo beach in Aljezur (click here), updates on which have never reached newspapers.

Of the 121 ‘rescues’, southern region maritime commander Rocha Pacheco reports that 88 were performed by lifeguards, with 11 being undertaken by the Navy.

Four divers were rescued after being lost at sea (here it’s unclear whether they were rescued by the Navy or Maritime Police).

That leaves 18 rescues as ‘unaccounted for’ – possibly meaning these were people rescued by surfers who are now considered indispensable for the protection of swimmers on ‘unsupervised beaches’.

Explain reports, the average age of people rescued was 37 years old.

Lifeguards were also tasked with recovering eight children temporarily lost on Algarve beaches (all safely recovered) while life-saving craft went out to sea on 61 occasions to either ‘save’ or come to the assistance of 132 people who found themselves in difficulties.

In terms of ‘primary assistance’ – incidents where lifeguards acted to stop what could have developed into a situation of risk, there were only 253 ‘actions’.

Rocha Pacheco put this down to the fact that due to the pandemic, “there were less people on the beaches”.

The beach season also started ‘late’ this year (June 6) and ended in many places ‘earlier’ than usual (end September as opposed to last year’s October 15).

Nationally, Público reported last month that already more people had died on Portuguese beaches than during the entire season of 2019 (when 19 people died) – the majority on ‘unsupervised beaches’. This in itself is concerning given that the whole idea of beach restrictions this year was to keep people safe and allow them to enjoy the summer without contracting Covid-19.

As to data on the possibility of anyone having contracted Covid-19 while on the beach, there appears to be none.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com