As our Christmas edition went to press on Wednesday, families all over Portugal were faced with a new dilemma: should they ‘carry on regardless’ and celebrate Christmas in the way outlined by the government earlier this month, or should they heed new warnings coming from the World Health Organisation and Portugal’s DGS health authority and have as limited and ‘Covid safe’ a Christmas as possible?
The answer will become clearer on Friday, December 18 – the day earmarked by the government for a final decision on whether it is wise to open the country up for the festive season allowing free movement of citizens on December 23, 24, 25 and 26.
When he made the announcement of Portugal’s ‘Christmas concessions’ two weekends ago, prime minister António Costa did warn that if the epidemiological situation deteriorated, he would have ‘no problem pulling the handbrake’.
Since then, the epidemiological situation has definitely improved: transmission is markedly down thanks to the tiers of restrictions imposed across the country – though death counts and numbers being treated in hospitals remain ‘on the high side’.
The feeling in the air is that people really need a break (as long as they take it responsibly).
A decision to stick with the plan to allow unrestricted movement for Christmas could work wonders on the national psyche and put ‘Big Brother’ government back into people’s good-books, particularly when many of those people are businessmen and women whose life projects have been battered by Covid-led rules and regulations.
But experts have insisted on having their say.
New studies flagged by the media over the weekend warned that “without care at Christmas, an increase in cases and deaths is a certainty”.
Expresso highlighted predictions of up to 800 deaths in January (if people were careless), Correio da Manhã ran with 1,500.
Then on Tuesday, DGS deputy health director Rui Portugal outlined the prospect of families meeting only to exchange gifts in back gardens or on stairway landings and keeping celebrations restricted to those they live with, “without substances that can encourage affection” (this last point being a reference to alcohol and how it might topple people’s good sense of caution).
Mr Portugal described kitchens at this time of year as being places of ‘high risk’. He presented ‘10 Golden Rules’ (see below). No sooner had these been printed up for national dissemination, the World Health Organisation was exhorting everyone (across the globe?) to wear masks round the Christmas table/Christmas tree – anywhere really where the joy of Christmas might dare to (try and) show its merry face.
The likelihood of the WHO’s recommendations being ‘enforced’ is zero. Thus, we’re fast approaching a Christmas season where experts are sounding so many warnings – and the deluge of rules and recommendations have become so ‘OTT’ – that families may simply decide to take the whole matter into their own hands … very possibly with a large glass of something deliciously potent.
Zero transmission incidence of flu
If there can be anything ‘good’ brought by Covid-19, it is that seasonal flu seems to have ‘disappeared’ almost entirely.
Público ran this story on Tuesday saying nonetheless ‘experts warn it’s too early to say what could happen” (in other words, the situation could get ‘worse’).
The bottom line is that “all care must be maintained to avoid greater pressure on health services at the beginning of the year”.
Among this care falls the “use of a mask and handwashing, measures that prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but also help combat the flu and other respiratory viruses”, said the paper.
DGS Health Authority “10 Golden Rules” for a Covid-safe Christmas
1. Comply with all rules in place relating to your borough, region and country (see below)
2. If you are sick, if you know anyone with symptoms or who has been told to stay in self isolation, they must obey the rules. Those that are nearby need to give assistance.
3. Reduce contacts before and after the festive season to four or five people beyond co-habitants.
4. With all contacts, reduce time of exposure. Instead of meeting five or six people for an hour, reduce this number to one or two. Know to use outside spaces.
5. Reduce family contacts. Family should be considered as ‘cohabitants’.
6. We should limit contacts to quick visits in the yard/garden or on a stairway landing.
7. Physical distancing on all occasions. Kitchens at this time will be places of high risk.
8. Large, airy spaces offer most protection but are not without risk.
9. Frequent hand washing and disinfection, compliance with respiratory etiquette, the appropriate use of masks in closed spaces and outside areas where distancing is not guaranteed.
10. Attention to the sharing of glasses or eating utensils. Moderate use of all kinds of substances that can encourage affection.
Rule one is confusing as the government has said citizens will be allowed free mobility no matter where they live. But this could change this Friday.
By NATASHA DONN