Government throttles back on fear
Photo: Pavel Danilyuk/ Pexels

Government throttles back on fear

After over a week of frantic headlines, all signs are that the government will be throttling back on fear today (Thursday), in spite of the accelerating number of Covid cases.

Talks with minority parties ahead of today’s Council of Ministers have revealed a number of positive points:

There is unlikely to be:
■ any kind of confinement, or lockdown, announced;
■ a decision to start vaccinating children from the ages of 5-11;
■ much in terms of discrimination against the unvaccinated.

What does seem likely is a return to the use of masks in indoor spaces; a return to people having to show negative tests and/or Covid digital certificates to access public spaces with large concentrations of people (i.e. bars, discotheques, concerts, football games).

The new measures will come into effect over the weekend, and it appears they have the general ‘blessing’ of minority parties which have been at pains to impress their unease with ‘hysteria’ and ‘knee-jerk reactions’ along the lines of those exhibited by the regional government of Madeira (click here).

‘Hysteria’ is a word that has been liberally bandied about since the weekend due to accelerating headlines.

In his regular Sunday night slot on SIC television, State advisor and former PSD leader Luís Marques Mendes referred to “enormous, unjustified hysteria” being generated when the situation today – albeit increasing as the traditional flu season arrives – is nothing like as bad as it was a year ago, before the vaccines started being administered.

Third dose boosters are being given to the elderly, vulnerable and public sector employees whose professions involve interaction with this section of society and, as far as Mr Marques Mendes seems aware, they will not be offered to people under the age of 65 any time soon.

Speaking in Évora on Tuesday, vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo (Portugal’s vaccinations ‘hero’) reinforced the message that fear is not the way, saying that making the Covid vaccines obligatory (like some northern European countries have been doing) “would not help” here in Portugal.

As international sources have already stressed “Portugal has practically run out of people to vaccinate”. The only unvaccinated citizens these days are young children and a few young adults. Coming down hard on this minority would only “create antagonism within the population”, said Gouveia e Melo.

Thus, doom-laden headlines may well continue, but it does seem that the government’s path – certainly for the time being – will be one of measured caution, trying to ensure people maintain safe behaviour without making them feel they are being herded into further extreme positions.

Meantime, the situation in Portugal – in line with so many other countries – is deteriorating. Again, this is to be expected: it is winter; respiratory diseases of all kinds run rife; the elderly and vulnerable are always the first to be affected by falls in temperature.

Media reports have focused on “hospital admissions increasing for the last 17 days” and the situation in hospitals being on a knife-edge, which again is habitual in the winter season but more noticeable now in a health service that has been stretched to the limit coping with a pandemic for over 18 months.

But if data is looked at another way, 0.4% of the country is showing active SARS-CoV-2 infection at the moment (47,770 people) and 0.006% (649) are in hospital.

Since the start of the pandemic, Portugal has ostensibly lost 18,353 citizens to Covid-19 (many of the deaths have been in old people with co-morbidities that may have contributed to their deaths), which in percentage terms is 1.6% of the total number of people who up until now have contracted Covid-19 (tally as of Tuesday’s Covid bulletin: 1,126,318 positive cases).

The world’s focus on Covid-19 has, as one leader writer admitted earlier this week, fanned “a hypochondriacal psychosis over the mad notion of risk”.

Even on Wednesday, tabloid Correio da Manhã questions: “have we confused the Covid vaccine with the vaccine of eternity?”

“The plague of fear has spread much more quickly than the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic,” considers the paper.

Bit by bit, a sense of proportion seems to be returning. Over the weekend, for example, Expresso interviewed a number of doctors who admitted that they see a third booster for the whole population being potentially inevitable but without any scientific foundation.

Immunologist Marc Veldhoen, working out of IMM (Lisbon’s institute of molecular medicine), told the paper: “All those with a good immune system – the majority of people under the age of 65 – will have good cellular immunity and won’t need a third dose.”