A major protest attended by over 1,000 people was held in Faro on Saturday (November 21) to oppose the “crippling” State of Emergency restrictions that businesses across the country are facing.
Demonstrators also called for more support measures from a government that they feel has “forgotten” them.
The ‘Pão e Água’ (Bread and Water) movement started as a protest organised by restaurateurs in Porto but has grown into an all-inclusive movement for anyone facing unprecedented difficulties due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the leading faces of the movement is Bosnian-born celebrity chef Ljubomir Stanisic, who was also in attendance in Faro.
Representatives from the hotel, culture, retail and nighttime entertainment sectors have also joined the protest to stress the “dramatic situation” that so many people are experiencing.
“What’s at stake is the situation we are living. The Algarve is feeling it even more strongly. Seasonality was already a challenge. Now we are desperate. That is what drove me to take part in this protest,” Michelin-starred chef Leonel Pereira told Barlavento newspaper.
“We want the government to show some support towards our sector, because so far it hasn’t,” he added.
Restaurateurs in particular are calling for a 50% IVA tax reduction, TSU tax exemption, and grants that won’t leave businesses heavily indebted.
As Pereira pointed out, Faro’s inclusion in the high-risk borough list has led to a 70% drop in business at his restaurant CHECKin, inaugurated in March.
“Not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel is what’s worrying us. I have around 22 employees, all of whom are a step away from being sent home. Every day they ask me if they need to go into work, but with measures like these, I do not know what to say.
“It is hard seeing our staff struggling and facing uncertainty, not knowing if they will have enough money to pay their bills at the end of the month. This is more than a heart can stand,” he lamented.
Miguel Gião, executive director of the EQEPEC group which manages the Columbus bar, LODO seafood restaurant and Adão tapas bar in Faro, also attended the protest.
“We are hanging by a thread. These restrictions are very tough. They (government) either give us conditions to work or they’ll have to close us down and pay us for staying closed. This cannot go on; we can’t keep people in employment like this. At weekends, which is when we are able to breathe a bit, we are not allowed to work. Take-away services or home deliveries won’t pay our bills,” he told Barlavento. (Editor’s note: at the time of writing, restrictions for “high risk” boroughs such as Faro had been slightly eased, meaning restaurants will no longer have to close at 1pm at the weekend and lunchtime curfews will no longer apply – see cover story for the latest Covid-19 measures).
Nightlife has been forgotten
Also attending the protest were several bar and nightclub owners, who say they feel disappointed in a government that “acts like they don’t exist”.
“There is no one in this government who will say one single word about the nighttime entertainment industry. Are we criminals? They haven’t given us a single breadcrumb,” said José ‘Zé Black’, owner of Le Club and Calypso bar in Albufeira.
“People come to the Algarve to eat well, to be served well, to feel happy and to have good night entertainment, which is what they killed very early on in the pandemic,” he said, adding that he won’t “give up”.
“I have a family. I have two children and they need to eat. I’m going to fight for them,” he added.
Algarve DJ Pete tha Zouk also wants the government to “listen” to the people who make a living off the region’s vibrant nightlife.
“Someone in parliament must say something. Many of us have children,” he stressed.
“We have been distributing free music on the internet to entertain everyone while we were in lockdown. It’s been nine months. Bars and nightclubs are still closed, and we have no idea when they can reopen,” he said.
Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires and Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper.
Photos: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP