As the Resident went to press on Wednesday yet another railroaded sector of the economy was heading to Lisbon to challenge the latest round of government measures in the fight against Covid-19 that contradict current practice everywhere else in the world – and throw hundreds more people and their previously buoyant companies into financial uncertainty in the process.
We’re referring here to the water parks of the Algarve, closed by order of the Council of Ministers last Thursday.
The council also introduced nighttime curfews and other restrictions on hospitality businesses in dozens of municipalities up and down the country.
The problem with much of the decision-making however is that it has not been taking populations with it. People simply do not accept the government’s rationale. And those that challenge it through the courts are winning.
Says Diário de Notícias, since the country left its State of Emergency and entered a State of Calamity, the impunity with which the government has been acting has been open to legal challenge.
Thus citizens have been taking concerns to the law, and discovering it is possible to by-pass draconian directives.
Said the paper’s headline on Wednesday: “Courts are freeing citizens from serving isolation. Doctors feel de-authorised”.
The gist of the text is that an increasing number of people flatly refuse to stop their lives and serve 14-day periods of quarantine on the basis that they may have fleetingly passed someone who has since tested positive for Covid-19.
“They have been appealing to the courts with requests for writs of habeas corpus and they have succeeded in getting decisions reversed, thus being freed from complying with measures”, explains DN.
Concerned health authority personnel are appealing to the government “to clarify the law”. This is clearly ‘dangerous territory’. People need to be ‘on board’ with the authorities’ form of combat otherwise it simply cannot work.
If one listens to Diogo Marques – president of the Portuguese Association of Water Parks – the Council of Minister’s thinking with regard to the Algarve’s waterparks makes “no sense at all”.
Quite apart from there having been no outbreak of Covid-19 linked to any waterpark anywhere in Portugal, the ruling flies in the face of good Covid practices in every other country of the world.
“Portugal is the only country closing water parks,” he told us. “We have better conditions than other areas (like municipal pools, even shopping centres) which are allowed to stay open”.
Diogo Marques’ stressed the total compliance of Algarve waterparks with all government demands when it comes to ‘Covid safety measures’.
The worst of the decision last week is that it came just as the parks had opened for the season. “We spend at least 40% of what we earn in a season on reopening every year”, he explained. “This means the companies involved are facing financial ruin”.
And despite the media soundbites, Mr Marques maintains government support measures in this case amount to “nothing”.
For now, the only waterparks affected are Slide & Splash and Aquashow. Aqualand chose not to open this year and Zoomarine is still running when it comes to the animal-side of activities. Its mechanical rides and pools however remain shut.
Few relish putting their heads over the parapet in situations like these, thus the reason why waterparks combined to form an association last year – and the reason for their calling the meeting in Lisbon on Wednesday.
“We will be calling for a revision of criteria”, said Diogo Marques – though he conceded the whole issue will now be seen as ‘political’, and it may be difficult for the government ‘to admit its mistake’.
This, in the end, is the problem: combat of the pandemic has been politicised. And politicians in their frustration at rising numbers of new infections are quick to blame citizens, citing their so-called ‘bad behaviour’.
On Tuesday on a visit to a hospital in the Porto region, prime minister António Costa said: “We have to avoid irresponsible behaviours in clandestine and non-clandestine parties that develop without security and which are the principal diffusion poles of this latest wave of the pandemic”.
Accompanied by health minister Marta Temido, he called for the “individual responsibility” of every citizen insisting, said media reports, “that only responsible behaviour will be able to avoid infections growing as they did in January and February”.
The problem is that this is the summer. Young people particularly will be intent on enjoying themselves, no matter what any 60-something year old head of government calls for.
As SIC Notícias stressed at the start of the week in a report highlighting the number of ‘illegal parties’ that had gone ahead the weekend before, “illegal parties won’t stop” – basically because many citizens are simply fed up to the back teeth with being restricted, particularly when many of the measures ‘make no sense’.
Transmission of the virus outdoors is minimal, therefore young people will continue to congregate on beaches at night – and they will probably return home in the early hours of the next morning perfectly healthy.
But more to the point, adults too are questioning the sense of so much of what has been ‘decreed’ (with no ratification through parliament).
The ruling on restaurants at weekends, for example. Why do a few hours lopped off a restaurant timetable thwart a virus that is already in 90% community transmission? Where is the data?
Where, for example, is the data that says it will be fine to allow people to eat lunches in restaurants during the week, but at weekends and in the evenings, they should all be presenting negative tests for Covid-19?
Diogo Marques adds: “Where are the numbers of people that die every day from heart attacks, or liver disease or kidney failure? We are told one, two, three people a day die from Covid-19 and we’re meant to accept this means our lives and our livelihoods are entitled to be ruined! Where is the sense in any of it?”
By NATASHA DONN