Lisbon’s future in the ongoing context of Covid-19 infections is now in the balance after a nightmare weekend in which hundreds of young people defied health authority advice and came together for impromptu parties late into the night.
Prime minister António Costa is said to be meeting with various district mayors to thrash out a new plan to halt the relentless increase in infections.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that whereas in the past young people seemed almost immune from ‘harmful effects’, this is no longer the case.
Specialists are ‘concerned’, reports SIC television news today, that more and more young people are developing ‘serious issues’ as a result of becoming infected.
“It is not cool to get sick. It is not cool to have consequences that stay with you for the rest of your life, and it is not cool to serve as an element of transmission of the virus, and see your parents and grandparents become ill as a result”, doctor Isabel Adir told the station – admitting Covid-19 is “not having the evolution that specialists imagined” it would.
Stressing that the majority of young people who have developed serious symptoms were previously ‘healthy’, with no underlying pathologies whatsoever, the doctor stressed that a number have even had to be transferred to intensive care.
In the meantime, the constant rise in infections, particularly in the Lisbon and Vale do Tejo region, is seriously worrying the government.
As media outlets explain, PM Costa always said he would be ready to ‘step backwards’ in terms of restrictions if the situation required it.
President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has also stressed that ‘more restrictive measures’ will have to come to halt contagion if the overall picture doesn’t rapidly improve.
As to the weekend, from the point of view of health authorities that have battled so tirelessly to bring the national epidemic under control, it was ‘a nightmare’.
Far beyond the concern of an illegal party last week in Odiaxère, in the Algarve, there were impromptu gatherings of hundreds of young people on the beaches of Arrábida (not far from Setúbal), on beaches near Lisbon, at fuel stations and locations in and around Porto, Braga and Vila do Conde.
From a situation only a few weeks ago when Portugal was ‘the example’ to the rest of Europe, the country is suddenly registering the second ‘worst’ ratio of infections per 100,000 inhabitants.
With bars and discotheques still closed, youngsters who often believe they ‘can’t get the virus’ have started ‘going out’ with alcohol on them and then meeting up with friends. It’s a Spanish ‘fad’ known as ‘botellón’, and it has already seen authorities prohibit the sale of alcohol in service stations up and down the country.
Further restrictive measures could involve imposing nighttime curfews on the sale of alcohol generally.
Say reports, restaurants may see their hours reduced – a measure that will effectively ‘crucify’ restaurant owners who are trying desperately to survive on reduced business already.
Needless to say, on the much wider scale, the epidemic nationally is showing a much brighter picture. Between June 14 to 20 there were only 16 deaths, which puts Portugal among the best results (again) in Europe. It’s simply infection rates, and basically only those in the Greater Lisbon area that are causing so much concern.
Prime minister António Costa has emerged from the five-hour-long meeting with several mayors and health officials today with a list of ‘changes’ coming into place in Greater Lisbon from midnight tonight.
The changes – involving an 8pm curfew for shops and restaurants, reinforced monitoring of commercial centres and a ban on groups of more than 10 people – are aimed at stemming the rising tide of new coronavirus infections.
Mr Costa told reporters that the meeting “allowed us to localise with extreme rigor the nucleus of the problem in 19 parishes”.
In some cases it was “possible to locate the residential areas where there is particularly high incidence” of Covid infections.
Thus the plan emerging involves the introduction of the new Healthy Neighbourhoods Programme – an initiative that will develop community projects designed at reinforcing the message on how to ‘prevent Covid-19 contagion’.
At the same time, testing is to be speeded up and further tightened via the use of georeferencing, which will be able to pinpoint not simply streets that need closer monitoring, but buildings (ie apartment blocks where everyone will need to be checked).
The hitherto ‘lenient policing’ of large groups of young people drinking late into the night will be stepped up to allow police to actually fine offenders – and there will be a beefing up of the number of agents (PSP and GNR) on the streets.
Regarding the 8pm curfew, restaurants serving dinner will be exempt, but they still won’t be able to serve alcohol beyond this point.
Commercial centres also will be more closely monitored regarding the numbers of people allowed in and out of shops at any one time.
Anyone who believes the measures could be ‘a little harsh’ has only to look at the rising number of hospital admissions.
At today’s coronavirus press conference, secretary of state for health António Lacerda Sales admitted that two hospitals particularly are particularly stretched: Amadora-Sintra, with 93% occupancy and Beatriz Ângelo in Loures, registering ‘100%’ (ie no room left at all).
Setúbal Hospital is also showing an occupancy rate of 86%.
Bearing in mind Covid wards elsewhere are nowhere near these percentages (in Faro, for example, the last count – even after the illegal party in Odiàxere – was six admissions, none in intensive care) it shows why the government is reacting.