Marcelo challenges authorities to pronounce ‘once and for all’ about masks

Pressure for return to mask mandates intensifies

President Marcelo has said it is time for authorities to decide whether the country should return to mask mandates, or whether the wearing of masks should be left to individuals to choose.

The statement, coming as it did as he took selfies unmasked with a group of unmasked volunteers taking part in the Banco Alimentar food collection drive this weekend, was all the more bizarre for insisting on a decision over a decision.

The government only recently opted to drop the majority of rules in place over mask wearing, saying it was indeed up to people to decide whether or not they continued wearing them in everyday situations.

The message then got lost in a sea of images of politicians still wearing masks; of experts insisting they should still be recommended, of teachers demanding their pupils still wear them – and then news of ‘spiralling Covid infections’, essentially blamed on the fact that people were … not wearing masks.

Now, it transpires, the more elderly age groups are the one’s least delighted by the relaxation of rules.

A poll conducted by Aximage has been described as showing “more than half Portuguese are against the end of the use of masks”, but broken down into age groups this ‘more than half’ is seen as coming from people over the age of 35. Under that age, citizens are simply delighted to be free to make their own decisions again. Indeed, overall, 22% of those queried admitted to ‘not using a mask’ in any situation now (other than the few exceptions remaining: health units/ old people’s homes/ public transports).

With airlines also doing away with the need for passengers to wear masks, it would suggest the debate is passé – but clearly not yet in Portugal.

What does get ‘forgotten’ in this contentious subject (something even experts have stressed) is that for masks to be seen to work, they have to be used in conjunction with other measures, like rigid adherence to 2m physical distancing. As this measure too has fallen by the wayside of practicality, a return to wearing masks as Marcelo has suggested “for possibly two or three weeks” would, in the end, be simply cosmetic (at best).

That said, analysis of the ‘death peaks’ of 2020 have shown that Covid-19 was actually only responsible for two of them.

Six peaks of mortality in 2020: Covid only responsible for two of them

In a new report by the DGS health authority (this time classifying Covid as the 4th cause of death in 2020. It was listed previously as the second…), officials have admitted that of the six peaks in mortality during the pandemic’s first year, only two actually referred to Covid-19.

The year as a whole saw 15,500 more people die than numbers that died in previous years – but only 7%, says SIC notícias, (or if one refers to earlier stories, 6%) of these deaths were directly related to Covid-19.

As for the ‘six peaks in mortality’, one was caused by a polar snap between January and February “and the three others are still to be explained”, says the media station.

If this sounds as clear as mud, it is because it is: there is so much unexplained in this pandemic that independent news provider Página UM has actually taken legal steps to attempt to wrestle information out of the DGS/ health ministry.

The prime minister, meantime, has also said there has been a ‘lack of coherence’ in measures adopted.

Among information/ policies which still raise huge questions is the fact that elderly citizens are being called for boosters of ancestral vaccines when it is clear that these vaccines will not protect them sufficiently. Fatalities these days are invariably people who have been vaccinated but are, due to age, in their final years of life anyway. For example, of the 230 people who died last week from Covid, 179 were over the age of 80. This is the age group that sees the most hospital admissions, adds SIC.

Thus we wait to see if next week will see ‘authorities’ redrafting the mask-liberation policy of a month ago, or whether monkey-pox will be seized on to deflect everyone’s attentions.

Today, news is this pox has spread to 74 individuals, all still believed to be ‘men who sleep with men’; the majority under the age of 40. As of the latest monkey pox bulletin, all those infected were described as stable and recovering at home.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com