Safe in Portugal: "a fantastic nation"

Portugal in global headlines – for all the right reasons

Portugal has spent the weekend in global headlines, for all the right reasons.

The first comes as a result of “having run out of adults to vaccinate” against Covid-19.

The Washington Post has run a long, heartwarming article, focusing on the ‘big’ picture and the small – illustrating a country expertly steered round the various icebergs of the pandemic by a submariner who has spent the equivalent of four years under water (click here).

“Nearly an entire nation trusted in the science”, the paper proclaims – and now this “cutting edge pandemic laboratory” has become a “place where otherwise-hypothetical questions about the coronavirus endgame can begin to play out. Chief among them is how fully a nation can bring the virus under control when vaccination rates are about as high as they can go”.

It’s an uplifting text, not without a hint of caution: “Many health officials are still worried about a winter wave, and a rise in hospitalizations. And they are still worried about the vulnerability of the elderly to the ravages of the virus. In Portugal, seniors are vaccinated at a level verging on the statistically impossible: Official data puts the rate at 100 percent. But many were also vaccinated more than half a year ago — and studies from around the world, from the United States to Israel, have warned of a drop in protection by that point.”

The paper cites the study that discovered that a third of residents in Portuguese care homes “lost” antibodies conferred by the Pfizer vaccine within roughly five months of receiving their second shots (click here). It doesn’t necessarily mean they are no longer protected, but it is definitely not a comfortable result.

As health authorities are now faced with deciding whether all seniors should receive boosters, the same paper has also reported on Portugal’s ‘excellent news’ regarding forest fires this year.

There were fewer of them than have been registered in the last 10 years.

While minister for interior administration Eduardo Cabrita has had a terrible year in terms of publicity; been vilified to the point that he was described as a “large political abscess” on prime-time television, this ‘achievement’ has to be one shining ‘star’ in his favour.

Explains the report picked up by various media outlets, “more than 80% of the 7,253 wildfires reported through to September 30 were put out before they grew to more than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in area – and more than 90% were extinguished within an hour and a half”.

This really is reason for celebration.

But the ‘good news’ did not stop there: from media in the United States, to the UK’s Independent – and even the Bangkok Post – came reports of the Afghan girls soccer team which arrived in Portugal only two weeks ago as a result of a joint rescue operation coordinated by the Americans (click here).

The teens (aged 14-16) who had feared they might never be able to play football again received one of the best surprises they could have imagined: a visit from the captain of the senior team (which also escaped the Taliban since it took control of Afghanistan), and the chance to practice with her on the sports fields where they have begun training in Odivelas.

Farkhunda Muhtaj flew into Lisbon, for an emotional reunion with the girls’ team late on Wednesday, giving a beautiful speech to the assembled press pack.

“You are a fantastic nation for impacting the lives of so many girls and for supporting us in so many ways and providing these girls with asylum,” she said.

The joy on the girls’ faces – and the wide smiles of their families – was testament to the fact that as small as Portugal is it can still pull its own brand of magic out of the hat, and surprise (if not impress) the rest of the world.