“It’s almost impossible to book a test in time for restaurants this weekend…”

This is the conclusion of research done by Expresso (Portugal’s ‘most read’ weekly newspaper) following the government’s announcement yesterday about restaurants in high-risk boroughs needing ‘proof of Covid vaccinations or negative tests’ in order for people to dine (inside) over the weekend.

A quick call round to pharmacies where rapid tests can be done with State ‘co-participation’ has shown that every single one is already fully-booked. 

Advice coming through is ‘if you’re planning on going out to dinner in a high risk or very high risk borough anytime soon, you will need to book a test (if not already fully-vaccinated) well in advance’.

The alternatives (much more expensive PCR or antigen tests) may well be considered by many as ‘too much to take on board’ just for a meal out when one could simply re-schedule plans and go out during the week (when none of the new restrictions will apply).

For the time being little is being said about the arbitrary nature of these new rules. Why, for example, is it ‘perfectly okay’ to go out without flourishing a Covid Digital Certificate or negative test during the week?

Minister for the presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva’s response is that the weekends are traditionally times for ‘larger gatherings’.

But considering this policy is coming into place during the month when most people start taking holidays, days of the week or days of the weekend will have far less significance.

Indeed the need to dine inside may have far less significance.

Be that as it may, the rules are the rules. Or are they?

Alojamento Local social media pages are on fire this morning as owners and managers grapple with the enormity of the tasks ahead of them.

Clients have been calling in to cancel as either they see they can’t get tests easily in time for bookings made this weekend; they don’t want to risk the chance that they may test negative, or they simply don’t care for the increased level of control.

One points out that the government’s insistence that guests present proof of vaccination (Covid Digital Certificate) or negative tests “is illegal.

“On 27 January 2021, the Council of Europe signed Resolution 2361. It states, in paragraph 7.3, that the 47 Member States ensure that their people are informed that Covid-19 vaccinations are not mandatory and that no one is in any way pressured to be vaccinated if they do not want to be.” 

Reuters explains that this is the wrong conclusion. A ‘resolution’ is simply that: a resolution. It is not legally binding. Therefore it will be difficult to argue that the new rule is illegal.

Nonetheless, many owners/ managers are taking the attitude: “Let’s just accept it and work around it”.

Mariana Vieira da Silva warned of stiff fines for non-compliance, but the idea that ASAE inspectors will be out in force during the intense heat of the summer holidays is also interesting, particularly in ‘historic areas’ of old towns where properties can often only be accessed on foot.

Said one AL manager: “Who am I to force guests to do this test – am I calling the police if they refuse to give it to me? Who’s paying for the test? Is this town stocked up with self test in the pharmacy and supermarkets?

“What’s the protocol if someone tests positive? Who is responsible? What about my own safety?

“Double vaccinated guests still have to test? Where is the sense in any of this?”

Where was the sense, for example, in closing Greater Lisbon off over the last three weekends, making people show tests or Covid Digital Certificates to leave or enter?

Mariana Vieira da Silva explained yesterday that the objective had been to help stop the spread of the Delta variant (which is prevalent in the capital). “This is now no longer necessary as the Delta variant has spread across the whole country…” she said.

Experts warned of the pointlessness of the measure from the outset.

While countries like the United Kingdom and Singapore have decided it is time to ‘face the virus’ and reopen society, Portugal’s plan is still to try and outwit it with weekend restrictions and bureaucracy while the vaccination programme continues apace.