Vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo – the man an article in the Financial Times has described as the ‘quiet hero of Portugal’s fight against Covid-19’ – stepped down today from his role as the leader of the country’s Covid vaccination task force in a ceremony charged with emotion.
He leaves behind him a ‘mission accomplished’ (or almost accomplished…) characterised by the kind of military rigor that is not usually associated with the Portuguese way of doing things.
Prime minister António Costa acknowledged Gouveia e Melo’s exceptional work over the last few months, as having been “crowned with success”.
Indeed, the international press has been focusing on the former submarine commander’s outstanding achievements since Portugal became the most highly-vaccinated country in the world.
But the send-off was tinged with acceptance that this is by no means ‘the end of Portugal’s journey through the pandemic’. It could well be that circumstances demand third booster shots for the wider population; scientific thinking may change; goal-posts may move yet again – while the immediate concern is over the 80,000 citizens who seem to have “forgotten” that they needed to turn-up for their second shots.
Said the vice-admiral, had these people already come forwards, Portugal would have easily attained its target this week for 85% of the population to be fully-vaccinated.
As things stand, the country can still boast 84.3% as fully-jabbed – and this is still the highest total in any country throughout the world.
The good news is that authorities have the contact details of the missing 80,000 – and these men and women will now be telephoned, one-by-one, to “try and understand why they have not appeared”, the vice-admiral told the ceremony held at the Joint Command for Military Operations in Oeiras.
While the prime minister stressed the political capital of the vaccination programme: “It has reinforced the country’s pride and self-confidence. It is always good to know that in this process we were the best in the world”, the vice admiral has insisted that “what matters is vaccinating enough people to protect the whole group. Being first, second or third in the world is not important”.
The last few intense months have seen 20 million doses of vaccines distributed under the task force (with 10% going in donations overseas) and more than 15 million being administered.
Portugal currently has two million doses of vaccines ‘in stock’ – and the knowledge that every age group eligible for them has shown stellar levels of acceptance.
Leaving his role with customary matter-of-factness, the vice admiral told his audience – which included the ministers of defence and health – that what is important now is focus on “combating seasonal flu and determining whether Covid-19 booster shots will be needed”.
PM Costa has already stressed that the failure to hit the 85% target ‘full-on’ this week will not preclude the country reopening on Friday – the moment that nightclubs can start operating again and when limits on numbers in restaurants and other venues will be relaxed (click here).