Six Algarve boroughs on high-risk list

Despite seeing six of its boroughs (Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa, Albufeira and Faro) considered ‘high risk’, the Algarve has dodged some of the toughest measures of Portugal’s new State of Emergency, such as the weekend lunchtime curfews which have proved devastating for so many businesses.

All the other municipalities in the Algarve have been considered ‘moderate risk’ but are also subjected to new nation-wide measures which were announced by Prime Minister António Costa last weekend.

In a bid to limit the movement of people as much as possible, December’s bank holidays (December 1 and 8) will see the whole population in Portugal confined to their boroughs of residence from 11pm on November 27 to 5am on December 2 and from 11pm on December 4 to 5am on December 9.

Another novelty is that the government has come up with a new ‘local lockdown tier system’ to classify each borough’s Covid-19 transmission risk.

Now, mainland Portugal is divided into areas of ‘extremely high risk’ (47 boroughs where there are more than 960 cases of infection in every 100,000 people during a two-week period), ‘very high risk’ (80 boroughs registering 480-960 cases per 100,000), ‘high risk’ (86 boroughs with between 240-480 cases per population of 100,000) and ‘moderate risk’ (65 boroughs with less than 240 cases per 100,000).

This is what has essentially helped the Algarve dodge the weekend lunchtime curfews (from 1pm to 5am), which will now only be implemented in ‘very high-risk’ and ‘extremely-high-risk’ boroughs (see panel below).

However, restrictions applicable in the Algarve’s six ‘high-risk’ boroughs include night-time curfews from 11pm to 5am. Shops and supermarkets must also close by 10pm and restaurants and cultural events by 10.30pm (restaurants can stay open until 1am but only for home deliveries).

Meanwhile, new measures applicable to everyone – no matter where they live – include masks having to be worn in the workplace.

The requirement for ‘remote working from home’ is now also to be ‘more thoroughly checked’ by authorities in very-high and extremely-high-risk boroughs, said the PM, as there has been ‘a lot of abuse’ in this regard.

School classes are also to be suspended across the country on November 30 and December 7.

While PM António Costa has tried not to make any forecasts about the holiday season, he admitted that he would be “very surprised if there wasn’t a State of Emergency during Christmas”, after being pressed by reporters.

With the new measures in place, the focus is now on containment.

In the Algarve, mayors are once again calling on the populations to ‘do their part’ by wearing masks, reducing social contact, and staying home as much as possible.

Although it wasn’t deemed ‘high risk’ in the government’s latest evaluation, Loulé has already crossed the ‘red line’ of positive cases during a two-week period, meaning it would be added to the list if the government re-evaluated it now.

In Lagoa, the only new addition to the list of ‘high-risk’ boroughs in the Algarve, Mayor Luís Encarnação has urged the population to “increase preventive behaviours” in order to get the borough off the list “as fast as possible”.

But while few seem to question the need to be cautious, the truth is that the government’s restrictions and measures which have pushed many businesses to the brink of bankruptcy are breeding unrest and criticism.

Last Saturday (November 21), a major protest attended by over 1,000 people was held in Faro to oppose the ‘crippling’ State of Emergency restrictions and call for more government support (click here).

Meanwhile, a new study has found that 76.4% of Portuguese disagree with the tiered system of restrictions – albeit being overwhelmingly in favour of some of the measures (click here).

Portugal’s business confederation (CIP) has lambasted the new measures, saying they are “incoherent” and are not based on any scientific evidence.

The national business association (AEP) has also accused the government of “forgetting about the economy”, implementing restrictions which are not accompanied by the necessary support measures for businesses.

The support measures that are announced are “insufficient or never pan out”, the association stresses, leaving businesses on tenterhooks as a third wave of the pandemic looms on the horizon (click here).

“Even just a word of support or hope from the government could make a difference,” AEP says.

As it points out, “the growing lack of confidence is the greatest enemy and could lead to an even deeper recession”.

TV commentator Bernardo Ferrão has also questioned the ‘scientific basis’ for these new restrictions – bearing in mind that a recent meeting with Infarmed (medicines authority) revealed that in “81.4% of cases it’s impossible to tell where people actually became infected”.

What’s certain is that these measures and restrictions will remain in place until at least December 8, after which the government will review them and decide which course of action to take as what promises to be an unprecedented Christmas inches ever closer.

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