Portugal’s State of Calamity continues today with the Council of Ministers deciding new restrictions, battening municipalities down, locking millions of citizens into the Greater Lisbon area for another scorcher of a weekend and generally sending out the message that we are a long way from any kind of ‘good situation’.
First to the basics: Portugal is well within the red zone of the (much-criticised) risk matrix, therefore no further easing of restrictions can be implemented.
Instead, restrictions are being re-applied.
In the case of Lisbon this weekend, the only (official) way of getting out is with a negative test or Covid Digital Certificate (proving the carrier is either fully vaccinated or non-infectious).
Lisbon, Albufeira and Sesimbra are all being ‘forced backwards’ in terms of deconfinement, meaning restaurants, cafés etc are plunged back into the weekend strife of having to close early (though this time, they are allowed to operate for lunches at least: closing time is 3.30pm, not 1pm as happened in the earlier stages of the pandemic).
Restaurants, cafés and other such establishments are allowed to run till 10.30pm during the week. But shopping malls will continue with restrictions on their operating hours, having to close by 7pm at weekends, 9pm during the week.
25 other municipalities are also having operating hours affected, but not at weekends. In other words, restaurants, cafés etc can operate seven days a week until 10.30pm. If transmission doesn’t improve, however, these municipalities (see below) could face even further measures at a later date.
They are: Alcochete, Almada, Amadora, Arruda dos Vinhos, Barreiro, Braga, Cascais, Grândola, Lagos, Loulé, Loures, Mafra, Moita, Montijo, Odemira, Odivelas, Oeiras, Palmela, Sardoal, Seixal, Setúbal, Sines, Sintra, Sobral de Monte Agraço and Vila Franca de Xira.
With three of the municipalities in the Algarve, minister for the presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva stressed the Algarve is one of three areas showing “greater risk” at the moment – the other two being Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo and the Alentejo.
19 municipalities are on alert – again a number of them are in the Algarve. These are: Alenquer, Avis, Castelo de Vide, Castro Daire, Chamusca, Constância, Faro, Lagoa, Mira, Olhão, Paredes de Coura, Portimão, Porto, Rio Maior, Santarém, São Brás de Alportel, Silves, Sousel and Torres Vedras.
Alert in this case simply means ‘if the situation doesn’t improve’ these areas could face ‘being forced backwards’ regarding relative freedoms won this far.
The result of these changes mean sporting activities, and indeed commercial hours, are now all working at different rhythms depending on what area of the country one may be in.
Ms Vieira da Silva confirmed that government support measures ‘will be extended’, and remote working from home for workers is to return to being obligatory ‘in some municipalities’ (actually, 28. These have been named as: Alcochete, Almada, Amadora, Arruda dos Vinhos, Barreiro, Braga, Cascais, Grândola, Lagos, Loulé, Loures, Mafra, Moita, Montijo, Odemira, Odivelas, Oeiras, Seixal, Setúbal, Palmela, Sardoal, Sines, Sintra, Sobral de Monte Agraço and Vila Franca de Xira, along with Lisbon, Albufeira and Sesimbra).
“There is no date for an end to this situation”, she stressed, leaving it clear that the government “is not in a condition to establish a date for ending restrictions on entry and exit from the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon”, for example.
“Complete vaccination in all those who are over the age of 60 may be a decisive element”, she said. “We have here a path in two/ three weeks which is an important step (meaning by this time the over-60s could be covered by vaccinations) but there are new variants… The fact that we have today a more serious situation does not signify that we can talk about the pandemic being out of control”.
This somehow didn’t gel with the words of the prime minister earlier this week in which he insisted that the numbers coming out of Lisbon do indeed show “we are not controlling the pandemic”.
But Ms Vieira da Silva’s body language was also indication that government ministers could be reaching their limit.
For reasons entirely unclear, the minister put on her mask every time she listened to a question, and then removed it to talk.
If the idea was to impress on the public the importance of wearing masks in indoor situations, surely the best course of action would have been to keep the mask on throughout?
As for the mixed messaging earlier in the day that saw parliamentary leader Ferro Rodrigues encourage citizens to travel en-masse to Seville for the next Euro game involving Portugal, Ms Vieira da Silva refused to be drawn.
The bottom line of the press conference was that we have to accept that the people in charge know what they are doing, and cannot tell us for how much longer we will all be bound by their changing minds.
But the whole issue of tests creates further confusion.
Pharmacies are selling ‘do-it-yourself’ Covid tests over the counter. Citizens are told they should take these up, and if they receive a positive result, they should communicate it to authorities. Yet, for the purposes of say ‘exiting Lisbon’ over the weekend, they are not sufficient. The only way to get in or out will be to show a negative result of a PCR test – a test that has already been proved inadequate, on its own, to control management of the pandemic (click here) and which is a great deal more expensive.
As for the much-criticised risk matrix. It is staying exactly how it is, said the minister, as it is “the best instrument we have for evaluating the situation of the territory” (even though so many mayors claim that it isn’t…)
Adding to the feeling that nothing really is going in any kind of straight line, President Marcelo has dubbed the restrictive measures imposed in Lisbon as “a breathing space”. Yet citizens are free to exit and enter the capital all through the week, and right up until 3pm tomorrow, which may be what people wanting real breathing space will be doing.
A final warning, Porto is running dangerously close to the wire in terms of per capita positive tests, and thus if its situation doesn’t improve by next week, it too will face ‘a step back’ in the agonisingly slow process of deconfinement.