Caption: President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in his address to the nation on Tuesday Photo: RUI OCHOA/PRESIDÊNCIA DA REPÚBLICA/LUSA

Goodbye State of Emergency

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa confirmed in an address to the nation on Tuesday evening that Portugal is finally saying goodbye to the State of Emergency that has been in force twice during the pandemic, but most recently since last November.

What will follow, he hasn’t said. Will he decree, for example, a State of Calamity (as he did in 2020 when the country exited its first State of Emergency)? We will have to wait for later today (Thursday) when the government itself will be deciding the next stage of deconfinement, due to begin on Monday, May 3.

As things stand, the current State of Emergency ends at midnight on Friday (April 30).

It’s clear from the conclusions coming out of the meeting of specialists at Infarmed on Tuesday that the country as a whole is doing well.

Indeed, everything points to Portugal ‘easily making it onto the UK’s green list’ for travel this summer. Said Portuguese ambassador to the UK Manuel Lobo Antunes on Wednesday: “Our numbers are excellent. They have been improving every day.”

But there are still a number of ‘trouble spots’ – boroughs where incidence is not conforming to the limits of 120 cases per 100,000. Thus, all these details are still to come.

But for the president, the Infarmed meeting was enough to confirm his feelings that the country no longer requires a State of Emergency in which citizens’ fundamental rights in a democracy have been severely limited.

As he explained in his short address at the start of 8pm news bulletins, he reached his decision following “stabilisation and reduction in the number of deaths and people in general wards and intensive care, the fall of the R number and of incidence” – and advances in testing and, “more importantly, in vaccination, which I welcome”.

The country is a month from Easter, three further weeks since the reopening of schools, and the situation appears not to have been adversely affected by either.

Congratulating the “courageous resistance” of the Portuguese, as well as the huge input by the nation’s specialists and epidemiologists, Marcelo’s message was one of caution in that the pandemic is not yet over, and new variants could cause issues with the vaccines’ efficacy. But it was also one of hope.

Commentators have stressed that the president said “if it becomes necessary”, he won’t hesitate to declare another State of Emergency – but for the time being nothing in Portugal’s numbers looks like this could be on the way.

“It’s an important day,” agreed SIC’s commentator Bernardo Ferrão analysing the short address.

The big issues now will be the collateral damage coming along the line, not least the parlous state of the economy with more unemployed, falling GDP, a larger deficit and a great deal more public debt.

Fellow SIC commentator José Gomes Ferreira pointed out the obvious: after 14 months of pandemic, Portugal is a much poorer country.

Today sees the Council of Ministers meeting to decide how the country will now move forwards, both in terms of deconfinement and restrictions.

Constitutionalists have already suggested a State of Calamity “does not imply the suspension of fundamental rights of citizens” and thus is not made to be used in a generalised form “and surely won’t cover pandemic situations of the kind we are experiencing”.

Ferrão and Gomes Ferreira, however, both seemed to think that the “Lei de Saúde Pública” (Public Health Law) would be sufficient to impose ‘isolated quarantines’ (see below).

The bottom line is that we will all find out, almost certainly by Thursday evening when prime minister António Costa gives his usual address to the nation following the Council of Ministers.

Infarmed meeting hears “risk of dying from Covid-19 in Portugal now five times less”
This was just one of the many positives coming out of Tuesday’s meeting of experts, attended by government ministers and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Thanks to the vaccine roll-out (which has already immunised everyone over the age of 80 and will have achieved the same with 70-79-year-olds by this weekend), the probability of dying from Covid-19 in Portugal has reduced to “around 0.5%”, said Henrique Barros of Porto University’s Institute of Public Health. At the worst stage of the pandemic earlier this year, the probability “had exceeded 4%”.

Otherwise:
■ ‘incidence’ (the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants) has stabilised – albeit 37 municipalities ‘exceed’ the red-line of 120 cases per 100,000. Age groups ‘most affected’ are now those from 10 to 39 (and these have “a course of illness that is relatively benign”) while the over 80s are now showing a decreasing tendency of contagions thanks to having been vaccinated.
■ Overall, all age groups are showing infection rates below incidence at the start of Portugal’s deconfinement on March 15, except 10-20-year-olds which are showing slightly more (but who don’t tend to suffer serious symptoms of Covid-19).
■ As regions go, the Algarve is showing the greatest fall in the number of infections per 100,000, while the north is showing the least fall out of the whole country (archipelagos included).
■ Mortality from Covid-19 has reduced to just five in one million inhabitants.
■ Rt, the number indicating transmission, is hovering around 1, while hospital numbers, and numbers in intensive care are down to levels not seen since last summer.
■ Mass-testing is not coming up with more than 4% by way of infections.
■ Variants in circulation would appear to include the Indian variant (on the basis that some of the people testing positive for this variant have no recent history of travel). But while this mutation is more contagious than the British variant – which accounts for 90% of national infections – it is not more aggressive.

Boroughs which may not be considered ‘ready’ to advance to last stage of deconfinement
This was a hot topic last week, but suddenly this week ‘everything has gone quiet’.

After insistence by the media that there could be as many as 43 municipalities ‘at risk’ of not moving forwards or even being pushed backwards, the Infarmed meeting seemed to establish there were only 37 – highlighting completely different areas to those mentioned by the media.

According to the experts, the boroughs of Paredes, Penafiel and Paços de Ferreira are the three municipalities in the country which, according to populational density and the number of inhabitants, are “cause for concern”.

There was almost no mention of other boroughs which were showing infection rates above the red line of 120 per 100,000 at the last table published (last Wednesday). Indeed, the subsequent tables that tend to appear on Fridays and Mondays have been absent.

However, there is little chance of boroughs with high numbers escaping restrictions when the fourth stage of deconfinement is signalled on Monday.

This was hinted in an editorial in Correio da Manhã on Wednesday morning, entitled “Nothing to celebrate”. Executive director Carlos Rodrigues wrote: “Now that the State of Emergency has ended, there is no reason to celebrate. Quite the opposite. We have to face this step responsibly and with increasing rigour. Normality continues to be a mirage. Municipal restrictions, and the sanitary cordons that will be eventually decreed, even within the new legal framework, will serve to underline this.”

By NATASHA DONN
natasha.donn@algarveresident.com