Portugal ends Covid “Situation of Alert”
Photo: Bruno Filipe Pires

Portugal ends Covid “Situation of Alert”

No more mandatory isolation; no more free tests

Portugal is ‘celebrating’ October 1 by no longer being in any kind of ‘alert situation’ over Covid-19.

With the wearing of masks now only required in hospitals and old people’s homes, this latest development means the virus has essentially ‘joined the crowd’ in terms of how authorities mean to deal with it.

There will be no more ‘Covid isolation’ periods for people who test positive; no more ‘free’ tests prescribed by SNS health authority hotline SNS24, or by SNS doctors. Covid-19 is being seen as the ‘endemic virus’ virologists have for some time explained it has become.

No more ‘fuss’ in other words: passengers are already free to fly without the need to show any proof of vaccination/ boosters/ previous infection. This just makes life even easier.

Pretty much true to form, Portugal’s ‘public health doctors’ have reacted in ‘dismay’, suggesting the decision is ‘premature’.

Gustavo Tato Borges, president of the national association of public health doctors (ANMSP) and a very familiar face from the dry, dismal days of pandemic misery, has lamented that authorities have opted to leave people free to make their own decisions, regarding how they live and how they protect themselves/ each other.

“I think it is a premature measure, not very cautious, which will throw on people the individual responsibility of protecting each other,” he told Lusa.

The decision was announced by the country’s new health minister Manuel Pizarro who could do with the ‘good press’ of liberating citizens from restrictions following the ‘controversy’ that blew up last week over the fact that his wife is president of the Order of Nutricionists and, as such, there could be a ‘conflict of interest’.

To be fair, quite what kind of conflict of interest, hasn’t been explained.

But Gustavo Tato Borges is much more concerned by what he believes is the “huge risk” of a country freed from restrictions just as “we are entering a new wave, and we are not sure about the impact that vaccination will have”.

This inadvertently opens a ‘huge can of worms’, in as much as Portugal is already one of the European countries with the highest percentage of citizens vaccinated against Covid-19 – and also one of the Member States with the highest percentage of ‘excess deaths’. If the ‘impact of vaccination’ is still an unknown, there are many who would say, it is time to leave it at that. 

But they are not leading the country’s association of public health doctors. Gustavo Tato Borges insists that he doesn’t “know who is advising (the new health minister)” but that he has “doubts” that the national health authority (the DGS) is on board, particularly as Covid transmission is currently running over the benchmark of 1.

Tato Borges adds that “the reversal of the alert situation does not mean that the Covid-19 pandemic is over“; it is necessary to “continue to monitor the evolution of the disease”; this decision “should have been taken when it was verified throughout this winter that there would be no problems…We know there are patients that, despite being vaccinated, will remain vulnerable to this disease, because unfortunately they have a clinical condition that does not allow them to gain antibodies, and there are no treatment alternatives other than vaccination…” It was at this point that Tato Borges’ arguments seemed to get into a complicated tangle.

“We need the country to keep this disease under scrutiny so that we can protect these people until we have all the available weapons to be able to fight the pandemic in a more peaceful way“, he concluded.

As Lusa explains, the health minister “stressed that the government will continue to monitor the pandemic situation and, if the situation worsens, may take more intense measures”.

As it is, the situation of alert – the lowest level of response to disaster situations within the Law of Civil Protection – had been in force uninterruptedly since February, after Portugal had been put through situations of ‘calamity’, ‘catastrophe’ and ’emergency’ since March 2020.

Many would say it is more than high time that we shook off the restrictions of the past and just got on with a virus that currently leaves the vast majority of people who contract it completely unscatched.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com