Photo: HUGO DELGADO/LUSA

Monday’s new step to freedom leaves 10 boroughs ‘miserably looking on’ – and 13 with ‘huge doubts’

For most of Portugal today is the day we can all return to inside eating in restaurants and cafés, it’s the moment shopping malls reopen; we can all start going to the movies again, to theatres, to auditoria; shops across the board (no matter their size or location) are reopening, and secondary schools and higher education return to face-to-face teaching.

But for 10 boroughs where incidence levels have been deemed ‘too high’, there is none of this (beyond the return of pupils to further education establishments) (click here).

Indeed, some – like Portimão in the Algarve, and Odemira in the Alentejo  – have been forced ‘backwards’ (losing the ability to even offer coffee on a café terrace; restaurants have been once again forced to shut their doors and life has ‘gone back’ to the grim moments when essential services only were allowed to function).

Others, like the Algarve’s ‘capital of tourism’ Albufeira have been ‘suspended’ in time: not forced backwards, but equally not allowed to move with the rest of the country – while 13 boroughs – including Olhão and Aljezur – are on warning.

And the common thread through all this ‘confusion’ is that no-one feels they have been dealt with ‘fairly’.

The principle argument ‘blacklisted municipalities’ use is the fact that ‘numbers’ crunched by government authorities are all dependent on Census data that is 11 years old and doesn’t fully represent the areas’ populations

For example, in the Algarve Aljezur, throughout the pandemic, has registered very low levels of the virus (always under 120 cases per 100,000 – again, despite the fact that the borough’s population now is much larger than it was 11 years ago).

As a result of ‘mass testing of seasonal workers in agricultural explorations in the neighbouring borough’ (Odemira) however a number of positive cases have recently been found in migrants whose residencies fall within Aljezur’s boundaries.

The ‘high levels of infection’ detected among these migrants have effectively ‘closed Odemira down’ and are threatening the future of Aljezur: the ‘excellent incidence levels’ of the past have now suddenly become a frightening 304 cases per 100,000.

Mayor José Gonçalves has written to his citizens explaining the situation – but it basically means all non-essential service businesses in the borough are at risk of ‘going backwards’ at the next evaluation.

The migrant workers meantime are now confined to their homes, under DGS health authority vigilance.

People understandably feel not just ‘concerned’ but ‘confused’. No-one feels they can ‘plan’ anything.

Meantime, for the population of the western Algarve, the fact that shopping malls generally are now ‘open again’ still implies a long journey across the region: Portimão is nowhere near reopening, and Albufeira, with its popular Algarveshopping complex, is still stuck in the phase where only small shops with access onto the street can reopen.

All in all, it may be a ‘bright and hopeful’ day for many, but for a handful of boroughs and many thousands of inhabitants, it is still a time of limbo and concern.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com