The decision to increase Portugal’s current State of Alert to one of ‘emergency’ – closing land, air and sea frontiers – is now in the hands of President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
This evening, the president – himself mid-way through a 14-day period of voluntary isolation – addressed the nation in a recorded message, to say he was calling a Council of State to meet on Wednesday to “analyse the situation in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic” and effectively decide if it was the moment to declare a State of Emergency.
A State of Emergency differs from the State of Alert (called by the government in the early hours of last Friday morning) in that it allows for the closing of all borders.
In other words, Portugal would go from its position today of quasi-domestic lockdown to full-blown national lockdown.
Further restrictions on movement were announced this afternoon (click here) – the most radical of which has been to ban tourism from Spain – and more are likely to come.
The focus of all these efforts is to keep people from mingling/ mixing/ picking the virus up by going about their normal routines. The crisis being that if too many become infected at once, the health service will collapse. It is not simply a question of manpower, but equipment. For a country of 10 million people, we have a maximum of 600 ventilators “most of them in use right now with other patients” according to pneumologist Filipe Froes interviewed by RTP 3.
In other words, if a wave of critical victims hits, there will literally be no way of saving them.
This in the ‘nightmare scenario’ that authorities are trying everything to avoid. Portugal’s failings are mirrored, if not quite as acutely, in every country of the world
Thus, for now, we remain in the State of Alert, with increasing exhortations from all quarters to ‘stay at home’.
Wednesday will see the Council of State having to decide an issue that has never been faced before. PM Costa has stressed that if the president thinks it is the moment to declare a State of Emergency, the government will not challenge him.
A State of Emergency cannot run for longer than two-weeks (although it can be successively extended. Writes Rádio Renasença this evening: “In the case of this pandemic and confirming forecasts of doctors and researchers, we could live in a State of Emergency for some weeks”). Two weeks, after all, will not see us anywhere near the calendar moment at which health authorities believe this outbreak will peak (click here).
Vets meantime have ‘come to the fore’ to say they have ventilators, and expertise, that could be vital to the combat. Jorge Cid, leading the Veterinary Association explains: “There are a lot of new generation ventilators that are exactly the same” as those used for humans. “We often buy from the same suppliers of human medicine and they (the ventilators) can be used on people just as they are used on animals”.
The association made its pitch last Friday and is awaiting a decision.
As ‘odd’ as the proposition may read, Cid said that “part of veterinary training is common with that of human doctors”, and both professions very often use the same techniques and equipment.
“Our medical competence means we could help monitor patients, help administer medication etc. There is a panoply of areas in which we could help as the medical and health professionals that we are”, he told TSF radio.
Just two days later the doctors association has announced that 50 of its members have proved positive for the virus, and a further 150 are in quarantine, unable to work on the ‘frontline’.
In his recorded message to the country this evening, President Marcelo took time to praise all sectors that were working flat out to keep the country going against challenges he described as “enormous”, certain to last “weeks, more than weeks, months”.
It wasn’t an official message, he added – that will come on Wednesday from Belém after the Council of State. It was a personal message from the president, “from citizen Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa”, to say not only that “we will win” this battle, but to thank everyone who is standing together to face it.