Football fans cheer prior to the UEFA Champions League final in Porto on May 29 Photo: José Coelho/EPA/POOL

“One rule for foreigners, quite another for nationals,” rail critics

Last weekend saw around 14,000 British football fans descend on Porto for the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City. It was all meant to happen ‘within a sanitary bubble’ (according to the government). The ‘bubble’ burst, however.

Porto started filling up with fans eager to sit in the sunshine, drink beer and generally let their hair down three days before kick-off. The result was two nights of ‘incidents’ with police in force – but very few arrests despite plenty of moments in which arrests would have been automatic if the ‘skirmishes’ had been led by Portuguese nationals.

Only two weeks before, police in riot gear faced off fans outside the Alvalade Stadium, firing rubber bullets and wielding truncheons.

Response to rampaging British fans in Porto was much more muted.

As one police chief admitted on national radio: “We would have been much less tolerant if these people had been Portuguese…”

And this is the real ‘issue’ with what happened leading up to the Champions League game last Saturday: authorities’ double standards were laid bare.

At a time when spectators are still prohibited in national sporting events and football stadiums, the government – with the ‘approval’ of DGS health authorities – rolled out the red carpet to thousands of unrestrained foreigners who turned the centre of Porto into a round-the-clock party for three days.

Mask wearing was eschewed, there was no attempt at physical distancing – and as the beer started running out, chairs began flying.

This would never have been tolerated if the crowds had been made up of visiting Portuguese, critics were quick to point out.

In contrast, as fans did precisely as they pleased in Porto, families going to the beach in Lisbon were being warned that they faced stiff fines if they didn’t stick to sanitary rules. People walking singly on boardwalks were approached by agents if they weren’t wearing a face mask and told to put one on.

Former health minister Adalberto Campos Ferreira used the government’s own ‘bubble analogy’ in an exclusive interview with SIC on Sunday night, suggesting “the bubble of public confidence” in the way authorities are handling the pandemic – particularly when it comes to rules and restrictions – has burst.

“The Rule of Law demands that all citizens are treated equally,” he said. “The DGS has emerged from this latest mistake very much fragilised. As far as I have understood, only a few days ago a request was made for 500 spectators to attend the final of the Rugby championship (in Oeiras). These would have been made up largely of Portuguese families, in the open air, but the answer came back: ‘absolutely no because that is the way it is’.

“This issue of responding ‘absolutely no because that is the way it is’ has to start being justified,” stressed Mr Campos Ferreira, referring to comments made by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on the need for ‘coherence’.

Measures “have to be explained and understood, they have to be simple”.

At a time when serious consequences from the virus have reduced significantly, “what is the scientific evidence to support a restaurant closing at 10pm or 11pm? Why does a supermarket have to close at 7pm (at weekends)? These points have to be explained”, said the former health minister – particularly in the context that citizens here are hidebound by restrictions when a mass-influx of beer-swilling tourists was left pretty much to their own devices right up to the moment that the last fan swayed back to Blighty.

Criticism of the government has naturally come from all sides – not least because prime minister António Costa took until Monday afternoon to respond to the various calls for him to “resign”, “apologise”.

Here again, the government’s double standards rode seemingly triumphant. The sanitary bubble had been maintained, the PM insisted. It was simply that tourists chose to arrive “outside the bubble” – and “we can’t say we want tourism on one hand, and then say we don’t like it…”

It was neither an apology nor obviously a resignation. Mr Costa has no intention of a Champions League final bringing him down, albeit – and this he admitted – “things manifestly did not go well”.

“Lessons have to be learnt,” the leader of the Socialist executive fell back on the convenient political answer to any negative event. But as Mr Campos Ferreira stressed the day before, “there are pupils who fail repeatedly who need a tutor”.

This mirrored the messages from President Marcelo over the last few days in which he has been trying to steer the country away from further restrictions and constant repression to a climate in which people and the economy can be allowed to breathe once again.

The pandemic, for the time being, is ‘on a good path’: hospitals are busy catching up with ‘other business’. There are minimal Covid cases requiring specialist attention (in spite of new cases of infection appearing all the time) and the vaccination programme is forging ahead through younger cohorts.

The big question as the Resident went to press was, what does the government have in store for the country for the summer? This was due to be decided at the Council of Ministers on Wednesday afternoon.

There are those who insist that ‘after Porto’, it is unthinkable that football games and other sporting fixtures can continue without spectators. But more than this, what is in store for traditional summer events and festivals?

Still to be confirmed is whether or not towns and villages can celebrate the ‘Santos Populares’ later this month. Lisbon has been told that ‘it can’t’ by its town council; Porto, however, is allowing ‘limited gatherings’.

Health minister Marta Temido somehow perpetuated the redolence of double standards on Monday by saying that “the Portuguese understand that there are rules that have to be complied with”. Events in Porto “cannot serve as an alibi for anyone to do the same…”

Secretary of State for Sport João Paulo Ribeiro completed the image of an orchestra still playing as the ship gently sinks suggesting the Champions League final “was a success that reinforced the credibility of Portugal with UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations)”.

We will just have to wait to see how it affected the credibility of authorities with the population in general.

All change for the summer
Council of Ministers announces easing of restrictions
New rules || Prime Minister António Costa has announced an easing of restrictions for the summer – but the return of bars and discotheques isn’t in the equation.

Starting from June 14:
■ Restaurants and cafés, with seating plans as currently exist, can remain open till midnight for ‘admission’ and 1am for closure;
■ Shops can return to their normal working hours;
■ Public transports with ‘seating only’ can return to full capacity;
■ Public transports with seating AND standing places, can run at 2/3 capacity;
■ Theatres/cultural performances can run till midnight – with 50% capacity in auditoria;
■ Outdoor events can take place with ‘marked placings’ for members of the audience and under DGS guidelines;
■ Sporting events can return with 33% capacity;
■ Weddings and baptisms can be held with 50% capacity.

From June 28, there will be further ‘easing’ of restrictions on sporting events; public transports will finally be able to return to running at ‘full capacity’ and Citizens’ Shops (Lojas de Cidadão) will return to be accessible without prior appointment.

The country’s deconfinement is going ahead with the current ‘risk matrix’, but there are ‘changes’.

The ‘risks’ are being extended: a high-density municipality will not be in ‘danger’ of going ‘backwards’ in terms of deconfinement until it has double the number of infections previously considered too high.

While a low-density borough has even more leeway.

In other words, the previous blanket red line of 120 cases per 100,000 is moving to 240 cases for municipalities with large populations; low density municipalities – the ones that have most suffered in the ‘stop-start’ of deconfinement – will be allowed to reach levels of 480 cases per 100,000.

Events still not authorised include summer festivals like the June ‘Santos Populares’.

“The pandemic hasn’t disappeared”, Mr Costa stressed as he laid out the new rules – reinforcing the need for everyone still to wear masks but making it quite clear that these only need to be worn in outdoor situations “when it is not possible to maintain a safe distance” from others.

“It’s still too soon to lift this restriction,” said the PM, “bearing in mind the high level of transmission and the fact that there is still no data on whether people who are vaccinated can still transmit the virus. It is not comfortable (to wear a mask), even less so in the summer, with the heat”, he added. But for now, this is as far as authorities are prepared to go.

Reactions from the bar/discotheque/nightlife sector, which heard there is no chance of reopening before the end of August, will no doubt follow.

By NATASHA DONN
natasha.donn@algarveresident.com