Back from 'promoting Portugal' abroad, President faced with real downsides of the Bank Holiday weekend

President hopes summer won’t be blighted by hospital failings and long airport queues

Lisbon airport bottlenecks “an affront against human dignity”, says writer caught up in Sunday’s ‘action replay’

President Marcelo is back in Portugal from his packed weekend of Portugal promotion in UK and Andorra, and already sending out messages over the ‘chaos’ of another Bank Holiday weekend.

It wasn’t only hospitals that found themselves critically short-staffed; it wasn’t only maternity units that were closed, Lisbon airport also suffered the consequences of low staffing levels, seeing passengers yet again piled up trying to get through passport control for several deeply unpleasant hours.

Social media videos showed how many turnstiles were simply ‘not working’ in the terminal: had they been, the agony and frustration suffered by thousands of arrivals into this country would have been vastly alleviated.

Mozambican writer Mia Couto was among the melée, and he gave journalists full benefit of his opinions.

The queues were “an enormous affront against human dignity” and an “attack on the Portuguese tradition of receiving others”, he said.

This was not the first time arrivals to Lisbon suffered hours of misery – and sadly it is unlikely to be the last.

But President Marcelo clearly hopes measures will be put in place to take the heat off this country and a government that does appear to have been ‘caught off guard’ in many respects.

Regarding hospitals, he has tried to ‘de-dramatise’ the latest horror stories (very difficult considering an emergency ceasarian performed without the full complement of obstetricians ended with the death of a baby), saying “these have happened before in periods similar to this – a long weekend in June”.

His ‘solution’: the hope that these constraints do not happen again during the summer.

National media has been critical of “the silence” of health minister Marta Temido. The minister has however called a meeting for this morning with health entities, representatives of the doctors and nurses professional bodies – thus some kind of statement is expected later today.

As to the ghastliness of Lisbon arrivals, President Marcelo has also said he hopes they don’t become the norm this summer, as “it is not at all good for Portuguese tourism…

In fact, health and tourism are two key areas that have to see improvements, he admitted, mentioning the “very large efforts” that had been made by the health servivce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The truth however is that summoning up references to sterling Covid response is starting to pall. Says a leader column in Correio da Manhã today: “For two years Covid served as an excuse for everything that went wrong within the health system. Now that the virus has softened, this no longer works. The lamentable spectacle that we have seen over the last few days is the direct responsibility of political power, and there has even occurred a tragedy. Of course no-one could guarantee the result would be different had there been one, two or three more doctors working at Hospital Caldas da Rainha, but a baby died, and there were no doctors. No-one can get away from that painful sequence of facts”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com