Risk of transmission in Portugal is increasing, says PM: ‘no room for complacency’

It has been another day of larded warnings albeit a new meeting to gauge the evolution of the pandemic in Portugal has been positive.

The country is well within all the necessary ‘criteria’ for continuing with the agonisingly slow process of deconfinement. But the risk of transmission is increasing, PM António Costa has stressed.

Winding up today’s meeting, health minister Marta Temido referred to the risk of variants, and the spiralling cases in other European countries.

The risk of transmission in these other countries is “elevated and concerning”, she said. “We have to be very careful how we approach the coming days”.

Looking inwards, today hasn’t been ‘that bad’. Looking outwards, it has been fairly catastrophic: news from UK suggests Brits could be fined £5,000 if they ‘ignore government advice’ and go anywhere for their summer holidays that is outside the blustery generally uninviting British Isles.

On top of warnings over the weekend that the green-light to escape to the sun could be vastly ‘conditioned’ by the government anyway – in spite of the fact that millions in UK have been vaccinated – today’s additional potential body blow to tourism has sent many sectors into a flatspin.

Perhaps the only way to deal with the ‘noise’ is to treat it for now as ‘speculation’: nothing has been decided – and if nothing has been decided, all may not be ‘lost’ with regard to the chances of some semblance of a summer holiday season.

Certainly some towns in the Algarve are trying to ignore the soundbites, trusting that the crowds will come, even if they are only native Portuguese. But those that are peppered by large hotels waiting to open have not had a good day.

As for the national Covid bulletin, the epidemiological situation gets ‘better and better’: only +434 new cases throughout Portuguese territory; 10 deaths; 1,212 recoveries; a reduced active case count (now standing at just 33,332 people testing positive) and vastly reduced numbers in hospitals. 

Today’s meeting of experts and politicians to chart the course of Portugal’s epidemic heard that less and less elderly now are contracting the virus – and consequently less are dying.

The focus now for the vaccination task force is to try and get as many people in the 40-60-year-age group vaccinated, to ensure health services are not overwhelmed in the case of a new spike in infections.

The underlying message however is that it takes very little to ‘tip the scale’. Portugal is currently running ‘well’ but with a Rt rate now of 0.89. In February the Rt rate was down to 0.68. We cannot afford for transmission to nudge towards 1 – because if that happens, the politicians have been clear: the brakes come on; deconfinement screeches to a halt – and ‘if necessary’ restrictions that have been shed return.

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