Covid-19 round-up: Portimão registers two further cases as Council of Ministers suspends decision on schools till later tonight

Thursday March 12: Decision delayed over whether or not to close Portugal’s schools as Portimão registers two further cases

  • The Council of Ministers has been suspended until 8pm this evening, in order to hear all political party leaders on proposals – including the closure of the nation’s schools – which will have “enormous impact” on Portugal’s everyday.
  • Mayor of Portimão Isilda Gomes confirmed this morning that the number of cases registered in the borough has now increased by two – both connected to the initial cases (a mother and daughter who recently returned from a short holiday in Italy). The country’s tally of infected has leapt nationally by almost 20 people in 24 hours, to 78.
  • Three more universities have nonetheless suspended classes for an indeterminate period from today – one of them the University of the Algarve.
  • The government of the autonomous region of the Azores meantime has declared ‘a State of Alert’ for the archipelago until March 31. No journeys in or out of the island are advised unless absolutely necessary. Events, concerts and gatherings have been cancelled. This is all in spite of the fact that up till now the Azores has registered no cases of Covid-19.
  • Footballing icon Cristiano Ronaldo, flying into Madeira from Italy to visit his mother recovering from a recent stroke, has decided to remain on the island, in isolation, after one of his team mates at Juventus has tested positive.

 

Wednesday March 11: The Day the World Health Organisation declared a Global Pandemic

  • All news channels are waiting on decisions to be announced at the end of this afternoon by the national council for Public Health.
  • The ‘early closing of schools ahead of the Easter holidays’ is a measure that is ‘rapidly gaining force’ (see update below).
  • Health minister Marta Temido stressed this morning, it is “inevitable” that Portugal will be entering ‘the mitigation phase’ within hours, if not days.
  • Containment measures this far have been unable to stem the rapid propagation of Covid-19, and more and more people nationally are becoming infected.
  • Official numbers are unclear, but they exceed yesterday’s total of 41.
  • Greatest fears of the virus ‘exponential growth’ is that this country simply won’t be able to cope if thousands require specialist care (particularly respirators).
  • Ms Temido adds that whatever recommendations come out of today’s meeting of experts, it is “fundamental” that they are respected.
  • General directorate of health announces 59 people were confirmed as positive (later updated to 61) with the virus by midnight last night, three of them from the Algarve, meaning cases in the region have increased by one.
  • Hospital Santa Maria in Lisbon has announced two patients, interned for pneumonia, have since been confirmed as positive for Covid-19.
  • A TAP pilot has been discovered to have contracted the virus.
  • Declaring a global pandemic just before 5pm today, Michael J Ryan executive director of the World Health Organisation warned countries: “If you do not try and suppress this it, it could flatten your health system…”
  • After hours of talks into the evening, the national council for public health gave a press conference in which the decision to close schools was left till after the Council of Ministers, which meets on Thursday morning.

Tuesday March 10:

  • Number of cases testing positive now has reached 41, leading to the closure of yet another teaching establishment, again in Lisbon.
  • Following a mini council of ministers in São Bento today, news is that the government is prepared to close schools ahead of the Easter break if this is considered necessary. The decision however will not be the government’s. It will fall to the National Council of Public Health, which will be meeting tomorrow (Wednesday). Schools directors meantime are unconvinced of the need, saying the measure would simply delay the problem of virus propagation by a couple of weeks at best.
  • Prime minister António Costa has stressed the government “has to be prepared for the worst case scenario”, which would imply further restrictions on everyday life. In the meantime, he said, everyone has to be vigilant and aware that they are the “first agents that can stop the process of contamination”.
  • Eight chains of transmission are apparently active in Portugal right now, most of them emanating from people who have recently returned from Italy, but one or perhaps two resulting from people coming here from Germany/ Austria.
  • TAP has cancelled a further 2500 flights (additional to the 1000 cancelled last week), mainly to Italy, Spain and France.
  • The DGS health directorate has updated its advice for people in ‘at risk’ groups, recommending the use of a protective mask to fend of infection.
  • Football league games are to be played without spectators.
  • Various conferences and events – including the Lisbon mini-marathon, Easter processions in various towns and cities – have been cancelled/ rescheduled. One of these is the World Tourism Conference due to have gone ahead in Vilamoura this month, now bumped forwards to November.
  • “Almost all owners of properties in the Alojamento Local regime are receiving requests for the cancellation of bookings”, reports Correio da Manhã this morning.
  • The official 24-hour health service hotline is struggling from the weight of calls coming in. Says Expresso, half the callers ‘give up, without having managed to speak to an operator’. This is ‘serious’ in that it is this service that is ostensibly ‘triaging’ people concerned that they may have the virus… PM Costa however has stressed the hotline is working satisfactorily.
  • Flights to and from Italy face suspension, but appear still to be going ahead. RTP lunchtime news says this is likely to stop by 3pm today. This was later altered to midnight tonight. The suspension will run till March 24.
  • Various meetings have been ongoing today, here and in Brussels, as the countries of the EU try to ‘work together’ to get through this, and avoid a situation like Italy’s – where deaths are now affecting ages across the board – from being replicated elsewhere.
  • Support for Europe’s small and medium sized businesses affected by this crisis is on the way in the form of a 25 billion euro fund.
  • Further contingency measures for Portugal will come tomorrow following the meeting of the national council of public health.

Monday March 9:

  • At least 43 Portuguese have been quarantined on a cruise ship in Luxor, Egypt, following the discovery of ‘dozens of infected passengers’ on another cruise ship in the region. The Portuguese are all, for the time being at least, in perfect health and awaiting testing. Said one, the port has queues of cruise ships lined up, waiting for Egyptian health authorities to come on board, test people and explain what will happen next.
  • The news everyone in the Algarve has been dreading: Público reports that 60% of the region’s hotels have reported cancellations for the coming three months (see separate story to come)
  • The government has suspended all events that bring together more than 5000 people ‘in the open air’. Indoor events involving more than 1000 people are also suspended.
  • Faro Hospital in the Algarve has finally be ‘brought on board’ to deal with any positive cases.
  • The Lisbon Stock Exchange plummeted today – as did Wall Street – seeing 5.3 billion euros wiped off share values.

Sunday March 8:

  • The University of Minho announced that it has suspended classes on its Gualtar campus in Braga after one of the students there has been confirmed as having caught the virus. According to Público, activities involving ‘large numbers of students’ will be reduced to ‘the essential minimum’ on all other university sites spread between Braga and Guimarães.
  • Numbers confirmed with the virus were, early this morning, still 21 – with 224 people now ‘suspected’ of having contracted it.
  • 10am… tally of infected up to 25… By 4pm, it was up to 29/30 (exact number to be confirmed in the evening news).
  • News reports describe north of Portugal ‘on maximum alert’ with restrictions in place for the districts of Porto, Braga, Vila Real and Aveiro.
  • ‘The good news’ remains that all cases so far are ‘related to each other’, ie people who have become infected due to interaction with others known to be carrying the virus. Much-feared ‘community transmission’ appears not yet to be in evidence. That said, the message from doctors on the front line in Italy – which has now imposed an effective lock-down on 16 million people – is “brace yourselves” (or more literally, ‘prepare yourselves’).
  • Algarve nightclub/ disco owners are reported as “not knowing what measures they should be taking”. They are appealing for government guidelines, amid concerns that the existence of coronavirus in Portugal ‘may put tourists off’. This is actually debatable considering globally we’re starting to be told the virus loses its strength the hotter temperatures get…
  • The ban on visits to prisons in the north has now been extended to cover prisons throughout the country.

 

Saturday March 7:

  • Early this morning confirmed cases remained at yesterday’s 13 – all in hospitals in Porto and Lisbon – with another 30 awaiting the outcome of tests. By lunchtime, the number of infected had risen by two and by 3pm there were three more cases confirmed. By this evening however the positive tally had increased to 21, with 47 more “awaiting confirmation of tests”.
  • The positive tests relate to men and women (14 men, 6 women) with ages from 20 upwards. Diário de Notícias has also cited one child (a boy) aged 10.
  • None of the cases so far relate to what is known as ‘community transmission’: they have been contracted from someone who brought the virus in from abroad.
  • The patients are in hospitals in Porto and Lisbon.
  • Due to the number of cases in the north, new containment measures were brought in as of this evening. Visits to all hospitals, old people’s homes and prisons have been suspended for the time being.
  • Three schools in the north have been ‘closed’, again, for the time being.
  • A music teacher (who plays the bassoon and recently returned from Italy) was discovered to be infected after having given a ‘masterclass’, which led to the closure yesterday of Porto’s Escola Superior de Música e Artes do Espectáculo.  The same teacher gave classes at another school in Covilhã, and two schools in Viana do Castelo which for the time being remain open.
  • Another of the infected – currently in hospital in Porto – worked at a shoe factory in Felgueiras which has also taken the decision to close, leaving 64 employees ‘at home’ in isolation.
  • Hoteliers generally – but particularly in the Algarve – are ‘lamenting’ the lack of ‘guidelines’ as reservations are being cancelled and business has apparently fallen by around 60%.
  • Three football matches scheduled to have been played on Sunday in Porto have been cancelled due to the virus: Barrosas-Freamunde (Elite Division) and 1st division games Raimonda-Roriz and Ferreira-Citânia de Safins.
  • Another event in Lisbon has been cancelled – “Urban Future Global” was scheduled to run from April 1-3 and was part of the programming for “Lisboa Capital Verde Europa 2020”.
  • The ‘Centro Hospitalar do Médio Tejo’ was the first to bring in, from today, new regulations surrounding visiting times for patients in its three main hospitals. Slots have been reduced to just three hours a day (2pm to 4pm, and 6pm to 7pm) with only one visitor allowed at a time. In cases were visitors themselves have special needs, the rules may be stretched to allow two people at a time. Since the decision, a number of other hospitals have followed suit.
  • In line with practices ongoing in Italy, Lisbon’s Santa Maria hospital has set up a kind of ‘field hospital’ to triage people suspected of carrying infection, to keep them away from others attending A&E for different reasons. These ‘field hospitals’ will be replicated in all other health units that have been chosen for Covid-19 internment. Says TSF radio, the temporary structures have been donated by the Red Cross, which has also managed to give the State “millions of protective face masks”.
  • The Portuguese Association of Private Hospitals has said it has a “significant number of private hospitals that have available beds and the technical and human means to receive patients” if State health authorities decide it is necessary. The association’s president Óscar Gaspar told Antena 1 today: “It would be a mistake to try and combat an outbreak, an epidemic, with ideology. Because it wouldn’t resolve anything and would tend to divide the Portuguese people at a time when we need the opposite”.

 

Starting today (Friday):

● there are now upwards of 200 people in isolation due to the virus (see story ‘President appeals for calm…click here) – the majority of them young teenagers from Amadora, close to Lisbon – and 13 people who have tested positive.

● In Lisbon, one tutorial centre is closed today after the mother of one of the pupils has become infected.

● In Alverca, contingency plans have been ‘actioned’ in a student college (Colégio José Álvaro Vidal) after it was discovered that one of the pupils is the son of someone who has been infected.

● President Marcelo has been visiting some of the infected in hospital, and reports that they are in good spirits. All so far are considered to be ‘stable’.

● Visits to elderly people in care homes face suspension after the association of home support for the elderly has recommended this as a ‘good preventative measure’.

Due to the fact that Covid-19 poses most dangers to seniors, president of the association João Ferreira de Almeida, told RTP 1 this morning that it will be up to each individual home to decide its policy. But a scenario of Covid-19 ‘entering’ one of these establishments would rapidly become “very very complicated”, he said, stressing care homes are “full of people of extremely advanced age”, many of them with “serious chronic illnesses”.

● Flagship airline TAP has cancelled around 1,000 flights scheduled through March and April due to the drastic drop in demand since this virus took hold.

● The Lisbon Travel Market or BTL, an annual event that brings more than 1,000 tourism sector firms from over 40 countries to the capital every year (and is usually visited by ‘tens of thousands of people’) has been ‘postponed’ until May 27-30. It was due to have gone ahead next week.

● Health minister Marta Temido is in Brussels today for the latest meeting to discuss coordinated measures to respond to the crisis.

● Planes are still arriving in all airports, with passengers travelling freely.

● The 24-helpline for anyone concerned they may have the virus has been given a ‘shake-up’ after it was discovered calls were taking too long to be attended. The man in charge has been dismissed and a new face now leads the service.

● The government is scheduling an ‘emergency meeting’ for Monday to discuss ways in which companies struggling as a result of the sudden fall in business. For now, the majority of these companies are in the tourism sector.

  • Two gastronomic events planned for Lisbon this month, “À Roda dos Alimentos” and the Lisbon Coffee Fest – both of which were set to attract dozens of participating firms and businesses – have decided to cancel.
  • A community support centre in Matosinhos has been forced to close today after one of the staff members was tested positive.

Updates will continue to be uploaded daily at the top of this page, to keep people as informed as possible.