Algarve mayors divided over new ‘high-risk’ borough restrictions

Eight municipalities in the Algarve – Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Portimão, Albufeira, Faro, São Brás de Alportel, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António – are facing partial lockdowns after being added to the government’s latest list of 191 “high-risk” boroughs. Opinions differ on whether these restrictions are ‘fair’, although local mayors all agree that they must be respected.

What has sparked controversy among some mayors is the formula used to calculate whether a borough is considered “high-risk” and thus subjected to heavier restrictions, such as weekend curfews and reduced opening hours for restaurants and businesses (to see full list of restrictions click here).

In a nutshell, a borough cannot surpass 240 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during a two-week period.

Some say that this formula does not take into account the foreigners who live in a certain borough but are not officially registered as residents (click here), while others stress that it is purely “mathematical” and ignores the specific characteristics of boroughs with a low population density.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have not opposed the new rules – because the spread of the virus in their borough has become too serious – but disagree with some of the restrictions affecting businesses.

Such is the case of Portimão Mayor Isilda Gomes, who says she is “deeply concerned” about the 191 positive cases which were detected between November 3 and 16.
“I believe these are useful measures, such as the possibility of checking people’s temperatures when entering establishments. However, there are other measures I would disagree with, such as the new schedules for stores and restaurants and the weekend curfews,” the mayor told the Resident.

“The situation is serious; this is true,” Gomes admitted. “In the last few days, there has been an unusually high increase in the number of positive cases (click here)” and, in many cases, says the mayor, this is down to “completely irresponsible behaviour”.

“The consequences, of course, are unfair – because of a few people, the whole community is affected and, in this case, a sector (restaurants) that has given a lot to the local economy,” added the mayor, who has also revealed plans to support local businesses (click here).

In São Brás, there is a feeling of “injustice” after the municipality was included on the list once again.

“It is unfair and extremely harmful to the whole community and especially to our local economy, which is already facing very hard times,” São Brás Mayor Vítor Guerreiro told us.

He said the “mathematics formula” used by the government to calculate high-risk boroughs does not take into account the “real situation of the pandemic and the risk of transmission in the community”.

As Guerreiro pointed out, there are “only 22 positive cases” in the borough, a “relatively low number”. Furthermore, they are all “under control and duly monitored”.

He also lamented that São Brás is being penalised despite the massive efforts it has made to contain the pandemic since it broke out. The mayor also revealed that the council is committed to providing assistance to families in need through a series of programmes.

In Tavira, the motto is to “follow the recommended measures scrupulously, no matter the reasons why we were added to the list”.

So said local mayor Ana Paula Martins in a video posted on the local council’s Facebook page, in which she also announced plans to implement a programme to support struggling businesses, helping them deal with treasury issues and keep their workers employed. Also in place is a publicity campaign encouraging local citizens to shop locally.

The council is also supporting families whose income has been cut due to the pandemic with hot meals, food coupons, and subsidies to help them pay their bills, rent and medication.

Meanwhile in Faro, Mayor Rogério Bacalhau has not revealed directly whether he agrees with the new restrictions, focusing instead on rallying local citizens around the goal of reducing the number of positive cases in the municipality.

“We can criticise the criteria, we can suggest others, but this is our reality now. And our concern is to control the pandemic as quickly as possible, not only to be removed from the list but also so we can live our normal life and help our economy survive,” said the mayor in a video message, urging locals to follow recommendations.

He also stressed that there are no Covid-19 outbreaks in Faro and that the positive cases have been detected among family members. All those who have tested positive or who have been in contact with infected people are in quarantine, he added.

Support measures for local families are on the way, although Bacalhau calls for more government support especially for local businesses (see page 29).
In the region’s tourism capital Albufeira, the plea is for everyone to stay home as much as possible.

Describing Covid-19 as a “vulture-like virus”, Mayor José Carlos Rolo called on the “courage, responsibility and resistance” of local citizens to be expressed by wearing masks, reducing social contacts and staying home as much as possible.

In the Western Algarve, Lagos just barely made the list after registering 74 cases in two weeks, one more than the limit.

“The situation was under control until a recent outbreak at a construction site,” Lagos Mayor Hugo Pereira told the Resident.

He recognised that the Portuguese government is doing everything it can to fight the pandemic and said that the method it is using to determine high-risk boroughs “is fair as it allows a more surgical control over the spread of the virus”.

The mayor feels confident nonetheless that Lagos will not be on the next list if everyone commits to following health authorities’ recommendations.

Further west in Vila do Bispo, Mayor Adelino Soares has slammed authorities over the borough’s “unfair” inclusion on the list, saying it is based on data that “misrepresents the reality of Vila do Bispo”.

In other words, non-residents who test positive in the municipality are taken into account in terms of its total positive case numbers, but not its total population.

He added that the borough would not have made the list if the criteria were adjusted accordingly.

In the eastern Algarve, Vila Real de Santo António Mayor stressed that the municipality has done everything it can to prevent the spread of Covid-19, being “one of the first to recommend using a mask in public”.

“We know that these measures will mainly impact our economy, restaurants, hotels and commerce. We are expecting 10 very tough days that will demand a lot from us,” said Conceição Cabrita.

[email protected]