Prime minister António Costa has laid out the next steps towards recovering Portugal’s freedoms – scotching predictions of vaccine apartheid.
Focus will be on encouraging people to take up the opportunity of vaccination, not threatening them with exclusion from shops and/ or supermarkets if they don’t – as was the possibility mooted during Tuesday’s meeting at Infarmed.
In other words, use of the Covid Digital Certificate (or need to show negative tests) will continue in all areas in which they are currently required (meaning airline travel, entry into hotels/ accommodation and the inside of restaurants at weekends and on Bank Holidays), only being extended to cover entry into gym classes, spas, casinos, cultural events, weddings and baptisms.
That said, various restrictions currently in place will be disappearing from Sunday (August 1).
These include the limits on operating hours of shops, restaurants and cultural events (which will be able to run until 2am every day), the 11pm nighttime curfew in municipalities of high and very high risk, as well as the requirement for remote working where possible.
Indeed, the grading of municipalities according to risk is being done away with altogether – at least for the time being.
Mr Costa did not even mention regions where transmission was highest, or worrying, or otherwise. All those municipalities last week ‘put on alert’ can now relax: the country is going back to being treated ‘the same’ throughout national territory.
The ‘three-point plan’ presented starts with the current situation in which 57% of the country will be fully-vaccinated by Sunday.
This plan allows for events to go ahead according to DGS rules at 66% capacity, and for fairground-type rides to restart (again according to DGS rules).
Hopes are that the country will reach ‘phase two’ of the plan with 71% of the population fully-vaccinated by September 5.
At that point, the use of masks in outdoor situations can be dropped; capacity for weddings, baptisms and cultural events can reach 75%; capacity on public transports can return to 100% and public services will be accessible without citizens having to make appointments.
October 5 is the final date in the plan, at which point 85% of the population should have been fully-inoculated against Covid-19.
Once this is achieved, bars and discotheques will finally be given the green-light to reopen (we are not told if the Covid Digital Certificate will be a prerequisite for entry, but this, or a negative test for Covid-19, is highly likely).
Restaurants will be allowed to function without limits on capacity, either inside or on terraces – and theoretically Portugal will be fully ‘reopened’ and ready for the future.
As the PM stressed, this is a new disease: no-one can predict exactly what will happen in the weeks and months to come – and basic measures of self-protection must stay in place (ie the wearing of masks in indoor spaces, physical distancing, hand washing, etc.)
“Even though the vaccines have reduced the pressure on the health service, reduced deaths and serious illness, the pandemic hasn’t disappeared”, he warned. And as the Infarmed meeting on Tuesday heard, new variants will be on the way – and some could be more virulent than others.
Returning to his fall-back from the past of ‘if things do get worse, we will have to rethink’, the PM was nonetheless confident, saying “we hope nothing like this happens”.
The only ‘moot point’ of today’s press conference was the position of the government regarding the vaccination of children.
Mr Costa answered questions on this subject, leaving the final decision to DGS health authorities.
Earlier this morning, SIC television news held a ‘public opinion slot’ on the vaccination of healthy children from the age of 12 which demonstrated clearly that parents are as wary about this as the country’s pediatricians.
But for now, the news is ‘good’: vaccination continues apace and the country is on track for an autumn with ‘herd immunity’.