Eerie silence hangs over the Algarve's waterparks

“Illegal parties won’t stop, no matter how high cases rise or how hard restrictions bite”

This is the message coming out of a report by SIC television news today, in which it describes the helter-skelter around the country involving authorities trying to bring a close to potentially dangerous get-togethers.

This weekend alone there were ‘illegal parties in Vizela’ (each one involving around 200 people); a shindig in Alcochete bringing together another 300 and incidents in the Algarve (click here).

Says the station: “A bit throughout the country authorities continue to clamp down, and have carried out various ‘actions’ to stop illegal parties.

But “the elevated number of infections and the tight restrictions to control propagation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are not sufficient to stop illegal parties…”

Perhaps part of the problem is the ‘thrill’ of thwarting ‘agents of authority’, or it could simply be that young people are increasingly unimpressed with the apocalyptic narrative knowing peers who have ‘tested positive’ and ‘recovered’ without feeling any adverse symptoms?

Whatever the case, rigid controls have got us to where we are today: a country showing escalating numbers and increased hospital admissions.

In the Algarve in which nine municipalities are bound by heightened restrictions, the water parks of Slide&Splash, Aqualand and Aquashow stand empty. Their staff possibly concerned about possible ‘reprisals’ have spoken to TVI without having their names or responsibilities put on the screen.

The bottom line is that these rules make absolutely no sense. There are no other water parks anywhere in the world shut down for these reasons, says one of the managers interviewed.

All three parks were already operating with limited numbers thanks to the pandemic. Throughout 2020 none saw any ‘outbreaks’ associated with visits to their beautifully-kept installations.

The Association of Water Parks, formed because of crippling Covid restrictions, is pushing for what it politely calls “a revision of criteria”.

These are theme-parks where slides are ‘disinfected’ after every single usage. There appear to be no cases of any outbreaks in water parks anywhere, let alone Portugal.

Indeed, there is scant data to show the virus ‘spreads’ in an outdoor context. One redolent with chlorine and disinfectant spray even less.

“Everything went well last year” and now these new rules, to stamp out any possible whiff of economic recovery

“We have better conditions than other areas that can stay open”, insisted another manager, referring to the fact that municipal pools in many areas remain open.

The worst of this situation is that no-one knows how long these new rules will remain in place.

The parks have been closed because they are located within boroughs registering elevated numbers of cases.

Zoomarine, however – also within a compromised borough – is allowed to remain partially-open.

Said a source: “We are not an aquatic park as such, but a thematic and aquatic park…”

“Lots of areas” therefore can operate, with exception of the ‘(children’s) mechanical rides’ and the swimming pool areas (where families used to spend hours enjoying picnics and relaxation on the grass).

Zoomarine is hoping visitors will turn up in spite of the quite considerable limitations.

The unspoken issue is that no-one can understand how authorities feel they can back-up their decision-making. 

There is hugely limited data on outdoor spread of SARS-CoV-2, while studies that have looked into the likelihood suggest risk is well below 10%.

America’s CDC website for communicable diseases states “is not aware of any scientific reports of the virus that causes Covid-19 spreading to people through water in pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds or other treated aquatic venues”.

The European equivalent doesn’t appear to have made any risk assessment of water parks in relation to the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Thus the big question: on what scientific basis has the DGS health authority shut down these activities, in a region that is massively-dependent on tourism and already financially in tatters?