The Algarve Health Authority (ARS Algarve) has suspended in-person classes for first to sixth-grade students in five boroughs – Albufeira, Loulé, São Brás de Alportel, Faro and Olhão – due to the “severity of the epidemiological situation”.
The decision, which was unexpectedly announced on Sunday, has been lambasted by opposition party PSD. The social democrats describe the measure as “intolerable and disrespectful” to parents, many of whom do not have anyone to leave their children with.
The suspension is expected to last 12 days until July 8 – the day that classes are due to end for the 1º Ciclo (first to fourth-grade) and 2º Ciclo (fifth and sixth).
The health authority justified its decision as a “precaution” due to the “816 confirmed active cases of Covid-19” in the five boroughs.
Albufeira has the highest incidence rate, with 583 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Loulé (448), Olhão (403), Faro (329) and São Brás (326).
ARS adds that an “epidemiological investigation” is underway and that health authorities, the health delegate and public health services will make sure the “direct contacts” of those who have tested positive will be identified and isolated with the “permanent support of police forces”.
The regional health authority also calls on members of the regional school community who feel any symptoms of Covid-19 to contact the national health hotline SNS24 (808 242 424).
ARS’ explanation has done little to temper the criticism it has received. The Algarve’s MPs for PSD say that the decision – which ultimately came out of the blue on a Sunday – has also contributed to create “confusion” and “distrust” and to shake the confidence of Portuguese citizens in their government.
“People who have their lives organised, who work and many of whom do not have anyone to leave their children with are given only 15 hours’ notice before a measure that will disrupt their lives for the next weeks is implemented,” they say in a joint statement.
The MPs want to know the reasoning behind the measure and if it is truly necessary, considering the Algarve is the only region where it has been implemented – although Lisbon’s epidemiological situation has also been worsening.
Cristóvão Norte, Rui Cristina and Ofélia Ramos also ask why the government has not carried out a free and mass testing initiative if the situation is “so serious that this measure had to be taken”, or why it has not sped up the vaccination process in the Algarve – the region where vaccinations are most behind schedule.
The MPs were due to question the government this Monday morning, they added.