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Protests in Porto as restaurateurs warn they won’t survive new State of Emergency measures

There are protests in Porto today as restaurateurs take to the streets in defiance of the new State of Emergency measures, locking down business in the city over the next two weekends (click here).

As owners explain most of their business is done at weekends. To restrict opening times to the mornings of Saturday and Sunday – even for just two weekends – will be to reduce already reduced revenue to the point of disaster.

And as many concede, it’s not even certain these weekend lockdowns will be lifted after two weekends. They could be renewed, leading to even more pressure on vulnerable businesses.

Talking to Lusa this morning, Pedro Maia, one of the restaurateurs who powered the protest initiative over social media, said roughly 500 businesses are affected, and ‘in despair’.

By taking their case onto the streets, the objective is to “show people what is happening. Right now, we simply cannot support these new measures”, he said. We already have cases where people are going hungry. We sunk all our profits from 2019 into the first lockdown. There’s nothing left…”

The sector is ‘on bread and water’. This was demonstrated today by protestors placing bottles of water on the central Avenida dos Aliados.

But more to the point, Pedro Maia highlighted the fact that the government itself has used official data to show how the vast majority of infections are passed in ‘a family/ cohabitational context’. Social interaction has been shown to generate only 3% of infections. Thus why the heavy-handed approach to restaurants? Why can’t they continue as they did during the first lockdown, when at least they could remain open selling take-away meals?

In Pedro Maia’s perspective, the new measures actually transmit the idea to customers that restaurants are centres of contagion, which couldn’t in fact be further from the truth.

“They are attacking the sector”, the entrepreneur told Lusa. “This is a message of despair. People are completely at a loss as to how they will pay their staff at the end of the month. This isn’t a question of losses. It’s a question of survival.”

And of course the criticism now is that the government, in not shutting the sector down completely, is abdicating from financial support that other countries, like Germany for example, is giving.

Restaurateurs apart, local retail in the 121 boroughs affected by the new measures is also ‘in panic’.

Say reports today, the way ahead stretches towards a minefield of bankruptcies and dismissals.

In the meantime, no one yet seems able to work out how shops and outlets will deal with the ‘influx’ of customers on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the 121 lockdown boroughs (if indeed there are only 121 covered by these new restrictions by the end of this week).

“It’ll be a chaos”, said one shopkeeper. “Particularly in large supermarkets. We all need to stay open to make money. How can we restrict customers at the same time?

Portuguese Law Association slams government for being “too heavy handed”

With the General Medical Council ostensibly supporting the government’s approach, the Portuguese Law Association has actually come out resoundingly against it, saying the measures are not in the least bit ‘limited and largely preventative’ as the government and indeed president has attempted to present them (click here).

They are “a very strong restriction” on people’s rights to “liberty, leisure and rest”.

Citing article 59, clause one in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, the association says ‘in practice an enormous slice of the population is now only allowed to leave home to go to work’.

This is “clearly contrary to the principle of proportionality, which governs the declaration of the State of Emergency…”.

In short, “there is nothing limited or preventive” about the government’s measures.

For now, there is no indication that the Law Association is planning any action against the State of Emergency measures. But it is the beginning of professional recognition that the government (and the president) may be taking the interpretation of powers just a bit too far.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com