CNN grills Portugal’s foreign minister over responsibilities for post-Christmas pandemic surge

Portugal’s media this afternoon has been reporting on the interview today of foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva with CNN’s “Connect the World” presenter Becky Anderson – stressing that the government accepts responsibility for the Covid-19 situation which the station described as “really, really worrying”.

What jarred slightly with the overall message was that CNN’s data was essentially out of date.

All week Portugal has been registering huge improvements on the ‘virus situation’ nationally – yet Ms Anderson opened the interview referring to how “recently Portugal was one of the most affected countries on earth per capita”.

With regard to the British variant, she described it as “hitting Portugal hard… the hospital system already nearly crushed by this pandemic, the country of 10 million people has extended its lockdown to at least March 1: it had been set to expire this Sunday but cases have doubled since January 1, and more than half of Portugal’s coronavirus deaths have occurred in the New Year. It is really, really worrying”.

This was the introduction to the interview in which minister Santos Silva tried his best to explain that Portugal’s situation is in fact improving; that the health system though hugely challenged did not at any point collapse – and that the vaccination roll-out is still very much focused on having 7 out of 10 adults inoculated by September.

All these aspects were presented by CNN in a much less upbeat light, and there was even the inference that current vaccines are not sufficiently efficacious against the British variant.

Portugal’s foreign minister fielded the questions to the point that Ms Anderson paused the flow to “remind our viewers just how bad things have been” in Portugal, and screened footage of the situation experienced in January.

The bottom line, stressed CNN’s report, is that Mr Santos Silva “accepts responsibility for Covid-19 situation”. But again, the reality was that Mr Santos Silva actually explained: “We do think that the major factor that explained the increase of the Covid numbers in January was the British variant. This was really the major reason”.

CNN’s presenter didn’t want to let this go (“So you don’t accept responsibility. You don’t believe the government needs to accept responsibility for any mistakes made… is that what you’re saying”) at which point the minister conceded: “No, of course, the government assumes its responsibility”.

The rest of the interview centred on the “devastating” economic toll on Portugal, which is still ongoing, stressed Mr Santos Silva – describing himself as an optimist, as well as a realist – and believing that the country “will see some recovery this year, and by next year things can be better”.

Restrained optimism is certainly the message coming out in the wider media today as the country’s hugely-involved President has received the first shot of his Covid-19 vaccine.

An official source told Lusa this afternoon that President Marcelo received  his jab at the Hospital das Forças Armadas in Lisbon, and should be receiving his second dose before taking up his new mandate on March 9. 

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