“Portuguese can holiday in Algarve in safety”, guarantees Secretary of State

The Catch-22 of clickbait headlines has finally put authorities ‘on the spot’ when it comes to the situation of Covid-19 in the Algarve.

After last week’s ‘doom and gloom’ coming out of the Council of Ministers – jettisoning practically every regional municipality to the status of ‘elevated’ or ‘very elevated risk” – Secretary of State for Decentralisation Jorge Botelho (a former local mayor and president of AMAL, the association of Algarvian municipalities) stresses the region is “safe for holidays”.

Portuguese should have no qualms travelling south. 

They can visit the Algarve “in safety” – in spite of the ‘elevated level of incidence’ (883 cases per 100,000) and public health institute INSA’s recent shock report that hospitals here are operating at 150% of capacity.

Who to believe?

This is the moment when voices that have been trying to put Covid into perspective (click here) ring true.

The Algarve “is no different to the rest of the country”, Jorge Botelho told Rádio Observador last night.

The apocalyptic message peddled by authorities has to be recalibrated.

Take the ‘150% capacity’ of hospital ICUs, powered by INSA. What does this actually mean? Would it sound better if it was explained that intensive care capacity for Covid-19, in a region in which over 400,000 people live all year round, is just 10 beds?

On that basis the fact that during the holiday season 16 beds are ‘occupied’ may not sound quite so shocking. 

As Mr Botelho explained, technically ICUs in the Algarve are running at 160% – but it’s still a tiny proportion of the current caseload.

The problem is that bad news spreads so much faster than good. Fear is also so much easier to whip up than it is to calm. Hence the sudden realisation that if left unchecked, the government’s heavy narrative could decimate the region’s chances for any kind of summer at all.

Yesterday, mayors were calling for the immediate change in the way regions are ‘labelled’: moderate, elevated, very elevated.

Stressed current AMAL president António Pina criteria should relate to numbers in hospitals not cases.

“This has to change right now”, he told SIC. “Exactly so as not to pass the image internationally and nationally of alarmism”.

Can authorities really have their cake and eat it? Can they impose restrictions, tell us the situation is ‘degrading everywhere’ and then expect citizens to flock en-masse to the south for holidays in municipalities where nighttime curfews kick in at 11pm and restaurants can only be visited inside with proof of a vaccine, or negative test?

This is the quandary coming home to roost. 

Locals will invariably say there is actually very little to be worried about in terms of Covid-19 in the Algarve. The issue is ‘can the regional economy survive the constant deluge of negativity?’