Portimão will celebrate its municipal holiday on Friday (December 11) at the end of a year which local mayor Isilda Gomes admits has posed “unprecedented challenges”.
“The worst feeling I’ve felt is helplessness – an inability to find practical solutions,” Gomes told Barlavento newspaper.
While she faced her fair share of challenges during her run as the Algarve’s civil governor (a position which no longer exists) between 2009 and 2011, none of them proved to be as challenging as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been through many difficult situations, from major forest fires to bomb threats and waves of robberies. They are complicated but we know how to react and how to implement concrete measures. However, everything we have been experiencing since March is completely different,” said the mayor.
The first case of Covid-19 in the Algarve was detected in Portimão, which was one of the first boroughs in Portugal to take matters into its own hands.
“At the start (of the pandemic), what we did was close almost everything and confine people to their homes. The government proved us right when it later forced citizens to stay home,” said Gomes.
But like the rest of Portugal, businesses and families in Portimão have been pushed to the brink.
Said the mayor, demand for council support has been “extraordinary, unfortunately”.
The council has already invested around €5.5 million – around 10% of its municipal budget – in support measures, from tax exemptions and the distribution of free masks to meals for families in need. All in all, the council is expecting to invest €7 million to support those who have been most affected by the pandemic.
“We have done everything we can. People will accuse us of not doing any works in 2020 and they won’t be lying because we greatly reduced the number of works,” said Gomes, adding that the focus has been placed on supporting the people of Portimão.
For example, the council will be handing out €15 vouchers to the children of the municipality’s kindergartens as well as primary school and fifth and sixth grade students.
“It hurts me to see many children who won’t be able to receive a Christmas present or souvenir. I don’t want that to happen,” said the mayor.
Children will be able to use the voucher to buy “anything they want” at local stores. The vouchers will be distributed at the schools and will be valid until February 2021.
Another measure involves the creation of a new platform for local restaurants which will allow them to make home deliveries without any “additional transportation costs.
“We aren’t just helping restaurants, but also taxi companies which will work much more frequently,” said the 69-year-old mayor.
Isilda Gomes also urged local citizens to “enjoy the Christmas they want” but follow Covid-19 guidelines whilst doing so and announced that there won’t be any New Year entertainment this year apart from two trailers which will be travelling the town’s streets with live music performances.
“People will be able to go to their windows or balconies and have fun. That is what we want to do – take the party closer to people and keep them from leaving their homes,” she said.
The mayor hopes that everything can return to normal as soon as possible.
“Once we know if the vaccine is effective or not, and if it is completely effective, I believe people will eventually forget about this and alleviate the tension we have felt,” said Gomes, adding that the Algarve can benefit from the number of people who will certainly want to ‘blow off some steam’ with a holiday in Portugal’s southernmost region.
“I believe the Algarve won’t recover in 2021, but by 2022 we will return to full speed,” said Gomes, citing this summer which proved that people felt safe when travelling to the Algarve.
Still, Gomes admitted that the pandemic has left marks that she will never overcome.
“I have been marked as a citizen, as a politician and as a mayor. I never thought I would have faced the difficulties that I have been facing. I will bear this with me for the rest of my life; I have no doubts about that”.
Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.