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Push to re-open Portugal backed by 167 ‘personalities’

PM António Costa’s affirmations that the country must re-open for business in May (click here) has now been backed by ‘167 personalities’ from the worlds of business, tourism, culture, health and sport.

The consensus is that the economy simply cannot wait any longer. 

The diverse group – including captains of industry, tourism bosses, events managers, doctors, lawyers, trades unionists, pharmacists, musicians, chefs and even nurses – has delivered a joint letter to the President of the Republic, the leader of parliament and the prime minister, stressing it is “fundamental” to action alternatives to a lockdown that in their opinion is “blind and gravely impacting on the economy”.

Measures suggested include the mandatory use of masks as people pick up daily routines; a continuance in social distancing (ie by using teleworking where possible), increased testing,  and the rather more insidious application of “new technologies to control a new wave of infections” (more of this later).

Says the group: “We do not believe it is possible to suspend economic activity until there is no risk of contagion. Our societal model cannot support such a prolonged wait”.

But the risks of a new wave of infections in the short and medium term mean “additional care” has to be taken “in line with expert opinion”.

This care is described by Diário de Notícias as the mandatory use of face masks by the entire population (to reduce transmission) and deliveries of personal protective equipment, or PPE (if in short supply) to families and institutions as per instructions of the Portuguese Council of Medical Schools (CEMPA) and international entities like the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The overriding message is that “Portugal needs to return to a reinvented normality as quickly as possible” so that the economy can “start an accelerated recovery”.

Many of the suggested ways forwards have already been trailed in recent days, both here and abroad. 

The group for example calls for an extended roll-out of PPE to areas that aren’t dealing with Covid-19 patients – on the basis that people will always fall through the net – early diagnoses via much more robust testing and the widespread use of serological tests (for antibodies).

Their appeal to the corridors of power also pushes for “the use, under supervision by the data protection commission, of information provided by mobile network operators to identify citizens who may be exposed to the risk of contagion”.

This is similar to the contact-tracing app recently unveiled in UK – and other forms of ‘tracking’ that Asian governments have been using since the first weeks of the new coronavirus outbreak.

As Forbes online stresses, “unsurprisingly concerns have been raised about privacy as the app seems to track people and their movements in some detail”.

Nonetheless, the group pushing to reopen Portugal believes “very rigorous containment measures” are necessary if this country is to move forwards before the economy implodes.

Further ideas include the creation of a structure of laboratories and ‘sentry doctors’ to identify the transmission of the virus and flag needs for further investment “so that we are prepared for all scenarios”.

The group stresses, “there are thousands of people who are now avoiding the SNS health service for fear of potential contagion. This means more frequent but equally fatal pathologies are not being diagnosed promptly, leading to an increase in morbidity and mortality”.

The prime minister Costa is due to meet various experts tomorrow (Tuesday) to lay the groundwork for a ‘return to business in May’. The exact date remains unclear but everything points to ‘sooner rather than later’.

The country’s State of Emergency is to be extended by another two-week period to May 1. 

Whether President Marcelo extends any further will depend very much on advice from experts against the increasing pressure from other quarters to ‘get the country back on its feet’.

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photo: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa