Tuesday, December 15, 2020


As Portugal prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union while the Brexit talks continue to drag on, Prime Minister António Costa says the political will still exists for a trade deal, but the remaining differences between the UK and the EU should not be underestimated.

Costa has warned against UK attempts to negotiate directly on the side with a few of the 27 EU national leaders.

He is hoping some sort of deal can be agreed in the coming days.

“For everyone the absence of a deal will be very bad, very bad particularly for neighbouring countries,” Costa said.

He added: “We are on the last dossier. I don’t want to underestimate its significance and its difficulty. We won’t do a deal at any price.”

Any deal will have to be approved by all of the EU’s member states. France in particular is thought likely to veto any deal in which Britain does not offer a compromise on fishing rights.

Costa criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to negotiate bilaterally with a few leaders.

He has emphasised that it was very important for all the 27 EU states to remain united under the negotiation leadership of Michel Barnier representing the EU Commission.

Barnier has reportedly said privately in Brussels that the tortuous trade talks could collapse, but for now “the patient is still alive”.

Barnier is also reported to have said: “There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible – if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.”

On 1st January 2021, Portugal will take over the presidency of the EU Council from Germany until the end of June, a period of crucial importance for decisions on climate change and Covid-19 as well as Brexit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020


Portuguese citizens, elderly and young, are at the fore-front of crucial efforts to tackle the greatest danger facing life on our planet: climate change.

Former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres, 71, now Secretary General of the United Nations, has placed climate change right at the very top of his agenda, warning that “the state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”

Meanwhile, six young Portuguese climate activists, aged between 8 and 21, have filed the first climate change lawsuit at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, demanding that their future physical and mental wellbeing be considered by 33 countries that should make greater cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

As record temperatures, severe drought and fast-warming seas confirm that emissions are still rising, UN Secretary General

António Guterres has starkly emphasaised the need for carbon neutrality. In his latest speech on the dire state of planet delivered at Columbia University in New York, Guterres said that while hunmanity was waging war on nature, "Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury."

Referring to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization, he reiterated that the last decade was the hottest on record. The declining ice sheet, the melting permafrost, devastating wildfires and hurricanes are just some of the consequences, he said.  Regarding the ongoing deforestation that is also fuelling climate change, Guterres pleaded: "Stop the plunder."  

Climate policies have failed to rise to the challenge, Guterres said, noting that emissions in 2020 have been 60% higher than in 1990. "We are heading for a temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100."Yet the secretary-general sees hope for 2021, saying it's time to "build a truly global coalition towards carbon neutrality.

The European Court of Human Rights has granted priority status to the lawsuit brought by the six young Portuguese climate activists. The Strasbourg judges want a swift response from the 33 countries involved in this unprecedented case.

The activists say it has given heart to their cause, which is to hold the 33 countries accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The countries named are the 27 member states of the European Union, plus the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The Portuguese activist group is being supported by a team of five London-based lawyers and the Global Legal Action Network, a international no-profit organization that challenges human rights violations. Their intention is to broker an amicable agreement in the case before it proceeds to litigation.

AP report that if the activists win their case, the countries would be legally bound to cut emissions in line with the requirements of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They would also have to address their role in overseas emissions, including by their multi-national companies.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Democracy and freedom in Portugal

Amid declining democratic freedoms across the world, international studies have placed Portugal very highly for its level of political rights and civil liberties.

The Freedom House research institute based in Washington D.C. ranks Portugal 10th globally – higher than such countries as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.

In its 2020 report, which has no bearing on temporary restrictions imposed because of the Covid pandemic, Freedom House states that “democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world”.

It accuses many freely elected leaders, including in India and the United States, the world’s largest democracies, of dramatically narrowing their concerns “to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest and being increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas”.

This is not happening in Portugal, which Freedom House gives a score of 96 out of a maximum 100. The top scorers are Norway, Finland and Sweden. The obvious non-democracies, such as North Korea and Saudi Arabia, have single-digit scores.

In line with other think tanks and analysts, Freedom House says liberties are generally protected in Portugal, which it describes as a stable parliamentary democracy with a multiparty political system and regular transfers of power between the two largest parties.

This country is currently led by a centre-right president and a centre-left prime minister who rule in a mutually respectful manner.

The Portuguese prime minister holds the most executive power, but the directly elected president has the power to delay legislation through a veto and dissolve the parliament to trigger an early election.

Political parties in this country operate and compete with equal opportunity. There is no legal vote threshold for representation in the parliament, meaning smaller parties can win a seat with little more than 1% of the overall vote. Three new parties emerged in the last parliamentary election.

Since it returned from a dictatorship to being a democracy in the 1970s, Portugal has established a strong pattern of peaceful power transfers through elections.
Both voters and politicians are free from undue interference by forces outside the political system.

Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and participate in the political process.

Parties espousing racist, fascist, or regionalist values are constitutionally prohibited.

The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira – two island groups in the Atlantic – have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.

The judiciary in Portugal is independent, but staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials.

Freedom of the press throughout Portugal is constitutionally guaranteed. Internet access is not restricted, but most online media have become paid services and only one national news outlet remains totally open.

Journalists are granted a protected status similar to that of judges, lawyers, witnesses, and security personnel, which increases penalties for those who threaten, defame, or constrain them.

Reporters Without Borders has accused the football world of aggression towards the media and journalists, threatening reporters who questioned the practices of major clubs.

Portugal remains one of the few countries in Europe where defamation is still a criminal offence, and although prosecutions are uncommon, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled against Portuguese authorities for their handling of both civil and criminal defamation cases against journalists.

In terms of religion, Portugal is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act provides benefits for religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years or recognised internationally for at least 60 years.

Other groups are free to register as religious corporations and receive benefits such as tax-exempt status, or to practice their faith without registering.
Academic freedom is respected. Schools and universities operate without undue political or other interference.

Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities. Protests organised during 2019 addressed problems including climate change, housing prices and evictions, restoration of cuts made in the public sector during the bailout, and fascism.

Workers enjoy the right to organise, bargain collectively, and strike, though there are some limits on the right to strike in a wide range of sectors and industries that are medical operations.

Freedom of association is respected. National and international nongovernmental organisations, including human rights groups, operate in the country without interference.

There are no major restrictions on personal social freedoms. Portugal legalised same-sex marriage in 2010 and extended adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2015. A 2018 law eliminated the need for transgender people to obtain a medical certificate to formally change their gender or first name.

Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts aimed at prevention, education, and victim protection.

Perhaps the most serious concern Portugal has struggled with in recent years has been major corruption scandals involving high-ranking politicians, officials, and businesspeople.

Though many individuals have been duly prosecuted for corruption, the Council of Europe noted last year that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption were unsatisfactory. Several laws to enhance accountability and transparency for public office holders, including ministers, had been approved but had not entered into force.

Other democratic concerns include poor or abusive conditions for prisoners and the persistent effects of racism, distrust of Romani people and xenophobia.

While there is obviously much room for improvement, Portugal is a worthy example of a country that greatly values democracy and a wide range of freedoms.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Portugal is a place of peace

The 2020 Global Peace Index just released reveals that Portugal remains one of the most peaceful countries in the world.

This latest, highly-respected index indicates that conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iceland is still the world’s most peaceful country, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined once again at the top of the peace list by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. Portugal maintains the number three position it had last year.  Canada is rated 6th, the United Kingdom 42nd and the United States 121st.

For the second year in a row, Afghanistan is named as the least peaceful country, followed by Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.
This is the 14th edition of the annual report produced by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the world’s leading analyst of peacefulness. This report is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, ranking 163 independent countries and territories.
It covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected international sources. It measures the state of peace across three domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarisation.
The latest report includes an analysis of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace.  It examines how the impact of the pandemic  -    in particular its economic consequences  -   will increase the risk of severe deteriorations over the next few years. It also examines which countries are best placed to recover from the pandemic shock.
The 2020 index shows that the level of peacefulness has deteriorated globally by just 0.34 per cent, but this is the ninth deterioration in the last twelve years, with 81 countries improving, and 80 recording deteriorations over the past year.
We now live in a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
It also looks at the trends in civil unrest over the past decade and finds that there has been a sharp increase in civil unrest events since 2011. More than 96 countries experienced at least one violent demonstration in 2019.
Europe has had the largest number of protests, riots and strikes over the past decade, but sixty-five per cent of the civil unrest events in Europe have been non-violent.
Portugal has made huge strides in peacefulness since its international financial and bailout crisis in 2014 when it was ranked the world’s 18th most peaceful country.
Portigal now seems firmly entrenched in the world’s most peaceful top four. 

The 2020 Global Peace Index document can be consulted at: http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/06/GPI_2020_web.pdf

Monday, May 11, 2020

Hunger instead of holidays

The Algarve Network for Families in Need:  insight into a charity whose efforts have recently become all the more vital 

In the shadows of the sunny Algarve, a place long likened to ‘paradise’ by foreign residents and visitors from abroad, thousands of Portuguese families are living hand to mouth or even in abject poverty. 

They stay remarkably quiet, probably because of feelings of depression, embarrassment or even shame.  There appears to be very little support from local authorities.

Someone who has made the problem central to her life is Bernadette Abbott, an English sociologist. Before moving to the Algarve eight years ago, she had much experience involving justice and human rights, as well as social wok and social car management. Bernadette became a volunteer for Algarve Network for Families in Need.

The prevalence of economic hardship in the Algarve was bad enough in past years but, of course, it has escalated hugely since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis.

One of the main problems for Portuguese families, she says, is that the minimum pay has been low and there has been no correlation between pay and the minimum amount it is possible to live on.

Too many people work without contracts and on minimum pay only during the tourist season. They are without work or incomes in the winter months.  For workers without a contract or, in the case of the self-employed, those who are without work through the winter and therefore have no green receipts, there is no eligibility for social security payments. 
“The Algarve has become far too dependent on summer tourism and little else. Winter is a nightmare for those on minimum pay in seasonal work,” says Bernadette.
“Families run up debts on rents, utilities and other essentials. They have to spend the whole of the summer repaying them. 
“Many who live in my village have been going out to work from six in the morning until midnight in summer. If there are two parents involved, these hours usually apply to both. Children are collected after school and their parents go back to work, leaving the children to do their homework alone.
“One family has told me that it takes until September to pay off their debts. Then they have about a month with some money before the nightmare starts again.”
Other problems include a lack of social housing at a reduced rent. Renting privately is usually expensive, even when it is possible to find a place available. There is no compensation in the form of housing benefits for those who have to rent in the private sector.  
Renting a place out of town may be cheaper, but it precludes many of those wishing to work in places such as hotels and restaurants because there is no public transport to take them home after 8 pm. 
“For a family in crisis there is very little family support,” says Bernadette. “Families have contacted me for food and when I ask if they have been to the local city hall, they will tell me that they have been given an appointment for maybe three months later.”
A very real worry for badly-off parents is asking children’s services for help. They fear that their child or children may be taken into care by an out-of-date and unnecessarily punitive system. 
“All this put together creates a system where people live basically from hand to mouth. They never have any reserves. So, if something breaks, or there is any additional expense, the finance does not exist for it,” says Bernadette.
“Families who are worn down by the daily drudge don’t question the system because they don’t believe anything will ever change.”

The arrival of coronavirus in Portugal coincided with the start of a new tourist season. Seasonal workers who had been out of work for months had been looking forward to getting back to their jobs and getting an income again to pay off their winter debts. Instead, they were shattered when that work disappeared.
 “Many families were left with no money, no food and no hope,” said Bernadette.  
“It was pure devastation. You could actually see people falling into depression.
“One lady told me she had a tin of tuna and 2kgs of potatoes and then nothing. 

“Others said they had to watch their babies in their cots so that if they caused any mess they could take them out because they had no nappies for them.

“Rent and bills just didn’t come into it. They were talking about sheer survival.”

While many are not eligible for social security payments, “these payments are totally inadequate anyway and you will see that this problem will go on for quite some time,” said Bernadette.

The problem has become so great that she and her fellow helpers are no longer able to help all families in need – only those most in need; in other words, those with nothing.

Bernadette’s appeals on Facebook both for volunteers and food donations reaped many positive responses. A generous donation from one man in Germany enabled them to keep going, but the network had to constantly top up. That meant expanding operations. 
In addition to the original hub Bernadette set up in Lagos, her network now has similar centres in Ferragudo, Messines, Guia/Boliqueime and Lagoa. 
The hubs are where food is stored, sorted and bagged ready for distribution. Lagos and Guia/Boliqueime are able to take chilled food as they have fridge/freezer facilities. 

Those in charge of each hub closely collaborate with volunteers with trolleys, operating a series of food collection points, mainly near supermarkets. Clothing and household items are now also being collected. Cash donations are most welcome too, but the network prefers cash donations to be made online the same way contributions are made to the bombeiros.  

Desperate families in need can come to the collection points for food if they live nearby, otherwise the food will be delivered to the family home.

The collection volunteers also encourage all the people they meet to watch out for any neighbours in need.

Algarve Network for Families in Need collection points

Pingo Doce        every Friday, 12 to 1.30 

Arade Pavilion           by arrangement

Retail Park        every Saturday, 1.30 to 2.20

Pingo Doce        fortnightly on Wednesdays, 11 to 12

Lidl                     every Saturday, 11 to 12

Baptista             every Saturday, 12.15 to 1.10


Intermarché               every Saturday, 12.15 to 1 .15

G.P. Surgery
              every Saturday, 11 to 12

Vila Sol Plaza, fortnightly on Saturdays; next May 16

Continente                  every Saturday, 11 to 12

The Algarve Network for Families in Need is looking for more hubs, more collection points, more volunteers and more contributions of all kinds to help the needy, especially in this current crisis. 

For more information:

Ready for delivery to needy families

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Portugal cautiously lifting lockdowns

It’s looking like a positive turning point for Portugal in the coronavirus trauma. From this Monday, the Portuguese authorities will be closely monitoring the lifting of some emergency lockdowns with a view to extending them if all goes well. 
The government’s cautious plan for an economic recovery is starting with small shops and a selection of other businesses. Only shops with direct access to the street are included. After two weeks, on May 17, cafés and restaurants may also be allowed to reopen.  
Two weeks after that, on June 1, larger shops and those located inside shopping centres will be allowed to open their doors again.
The success of this measured approach will depend on the degree of care and cooperation taken simultaneously by business owners and customers.  Hygiene and social distancing will remain vital. Facemasks and the use of sanitary hand gel will be mandatory among groups in most public places. 
Hairdressing salons and golf courses are among the specialised enterprises opening Monday.  Municipal markets will soon follow.  
The European countries, such as Denmark, Norway, Poland, Hungry, Austria and Switzerland,  that have already started easing emergency regulations have so far not reported any significant problems.  Any resurgence of the disease as a result of lifting lockdowns will, of course, almost certainly create a renewed clampdown that could have even more serious economic consequences.  
Germany, one of the most infected nations in Europe, allowed some shops to reopen last Monday. Hardest hit Italy, the first to introduced lockdowns, will follow with various relaxations starting on the same dates as Portugal.
Belgium also starts easing restrictions on Monday.  France will follow on May 11. Ireland will slowly begin easing this coming Wednesday though pubs are not expected to open again until August. No clear announcement has yet been made in the United Kingdom where present restrictions are likely to remain in place until June. 
The underlying fact is that if unlocking restrictions leads to any resurgence of the number of people infected with coronavirus, the strict rules that will have to be imposed again may have even more profound economic consequences.     
Portugal has been outstanding in its handling of the crisis. The attitude of the government, local councils and the great majority of citizens has kept the spread of the virus and the number of fatalities to modest levels compared to European and world standards. 
Infection levels have been lower in the Algarve than in the north, central and Lisbon areas of Portugal. This, together with the huge numbers of infections and deaths in neighbouring Spain, has encouraged speculation that the Algarve will be one of the most popular tourist destinations once the pandemic subsides.
As welcome as this notion is in a region whose economy relies heavily on tourism, the return of foreign visitors to the Algarve will depend not so much on its image and the reopening of hotels and other holiday facilities here as on the quarantine restrictions still in place abroad and the return to normal operations by airlines, particularly from the UK.  

Nearly all planes remain grounded. The future of airline services is among the many current uncertainties.   

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Recycling reaches record levels

The increase in the amount of materials recycled in Portugal last year peaked at extraordinary heights.

The latest statistics reveal that the overall level increased by 10% compared to the 2018 figures.

TheMayor.EU portal for European cities and citizens has described the increase as   “staggering”. It says that “Portugal is well on its way to achieving its sustainability and recycling targets.”

The statistics are seen within the EU as a clear indication that Portuguese citizens are taking sustainability and the circular economy to heart.

A breakdown of the 2019 figures shows recycling increases of 5% in plastics, 9% in glass, 14% in paper and cardboard, 7% and 14% in steel and aluminium respectively, and 34% in wood.

This latest data was gathered by the Sociedade Ponto Verde, founded in 1996 as a private, non-profit Portuguese organisation that   manages and promotes the selection, collection and  recycling of various materials in this country.

Because of COVID-19, however, the   extremely positive trend in 2019 cannot be expected to continue this year.

 Sociedade Ponto Verde  says the pandemic is having a negative impact on recycling as the Portuguese government’s focus has shifted from sustainability goals to protecting the health of citizens with emergency regulations.

Social lifestyle limitations together with the loss of employment in certain sectors are inhibiting the separate collection of waste and its recycling, even though this is expected to remain a priority for the relevant authorities. 

Residual waste services to households were being disrupted  in 17% of Portuguese local council areas, according to the results of a survey  published on 3 April, 11 days into the government’s original three week ‘stay at home’ period. Garden, food and bulky waste were being hit hardest.

Another worrying factor is the slump in the price of oil. As crude oil is a basic component in the production of most plastic material, the price of ‘virgin’ plastic is falling substantially. This means the price of recycled plastic is coming under increasing pressure and if something is not done, many recyclers may be in trouble financially, say analysts.

“The challenges presented by global warming and the lack of a global response are always in the rear-view mirror,” say representatives of Sociedade Ponto Verde.

Their simple message to citizens is do not forget good recycling habits no matter how life has changed and how it will change further in the not too distant future.

It is only through positive and responsible policies and attitudes that improvements can truly be achieved.

According to European Community legislation, all packaging entities are responsible for the management and final destination of their packaging. They can and do delegate these responsibilities to licensed specialists such as Sociedade Ponto Verde.

The Green Dot symbol used by the Sociedade  indicates that the packaging company has delegated at its own expense the responsibility of management and recycling of packaging.  The symbol is used by a whole  European network of organizations.

Meanwhile, in line with the EU Plastics Strategy, a pilot project was launched in Portugal last July to test  container deposit scheme for beverages.  As a result, the start of  2022 will likely see  a mandatory  scheme formally introduced for the return of non-reusable plastic bottles and cans. It is hoped this will be a breakthrough,   bringing plastic recycling in Portugal back to new record levels.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Lagoa link in crisis food chain

It is vital that the food supply chain in Europe continues to operate as efficiently as possible, and a Lagoa-based farming company is an example of how this can be done with a minimum of disruption despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The food chain in Europe is still struggling, but the company Schroll Flavours is going from strength to strength on its farms on either side of Lagoa growing, harvesting and exporting crops without too many coronavirus-related problems. 

Founded by the resident Danish entrepreneur Brian Knudsen, Schroll Flavours has specialised since 2016 in growing herbs and exporting most of its year-round crop to northern Europe.

The devastation of COVID-19 and the continued imposition of strict emergency regulations in Portugal and other countries has not impacted negatively on the company’s overall output, says Knudsen.

The company lost 90% of its normal wholesale and food service customers, but has been able to replace them with supermarket and online suppliers. 

“We can’t complain at the moment. We know of colleagues are in a much worse situation,” says Knudsen.

The food supply chain experienced setbacks from the start of the pandemic in Europe, which sparked panic buying that emptied supermarket shelves. Shortages didn’t last too long, but the state of emergency rules about social distancing meant reducing the flow of shoppers. 

The closure of restaurants, cafes and schools immediately impacted on their suppliers and added to the number of employees suddenly out of work.   

Farmers specialising in tomatoes and other salad crops in the central Portuguese province of  Ribatejo have been unable to get normal production underway because of a shortage of nursery plants. 

Other producers in Europe are currently incensed that large quantities of fruit and vegetables are being flown in from non-European countries, such as South Africa, Kenya and Venezuela, while farmers in Europe are struggling to sell their own fresh produce.  

The same lockdowns and travel restrictions are hindering relief efforts to prevent vulnerable developing countries, particularly in Africa, from sliding into famine on account of the pandemic.

Of major concern in the United States is that meat packaging plants have been shutting down because the close proximity of employees has caused a high number of coronavirus infections. 

Meanwhile, Schroll Flavours’ farm workers in Lagoa have been adhering to the social distancing rules and the farms are closed to all except those essentially delivering or loading goods.

With ideal soil and climatic conditions, including plenty of sunshine backed by adequate irrigation,  Schroll Flavours is able to produce all kinds of herbs all year round. 

Employees from Portugal, Denmark and India are kept particularly busy picking from March all the way through to January. The harvests are loaded onto trucks in Lagoa and sent across borders without unnecessary restriction to Scandinavian countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The biggest herbal demands abroad are for coriander, basil and Moroccan mint, followed by thyme and chives, with lesser amounts of rosemary and lemongrass. 

There is no complacency in any of this. Better days lie ahead. It’s been a firm objective of Brian Knudsen for quite a while and it’s about to be fulfilled. From the end of next month, May, his entire annual crop of herbs will be grown organically. 


Thursday, April 9, 2020

COVID-19: Faith, facts and fears

During Easter, people of faith will be among those supporting the COVID-19 emergency measures imposed by politicians on the advice of scientists.

All places of worship in Portugal will remain closed at least until April 17 – and longer should the present state of emergency be extended. 

Catholics, by far the largest religious denomination in this country, are having to make do with services on television instead of attending Mass in their local churches. Pope Francis has said that the pandemic represents a chance for creativity and positive change and urged people to reconnect with the real world and reject what he called “throwaway culture.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, well-known among all other religious and non-religious sections of the community for their door-to-door preaching visits, have suspended all such activity and are adhering to self-isolation and social distancing. They quote the Bible in saying that response to the pandemic should be measured and based on fact not fear. 

Passover, which is being celebrated between April 8 and 16, will not be quite the same joyous occasion for Orthodox Jews this year because of the inability of extended families and friends to gather together. 
Portuguese police are on duty to stop the small minority of city dwellers, religious and non-religious, who are hoping to drive south and spend the weekend in the Algarve. Fortunately the weather for the weekend in the Algarve is forecast to be not nearly so sunny and inviting as during most of last month.

In an especially stringent regulation, citizens have been banned from moving out of the municipal area in which they reside unless they have precise and important reasons for doing so.

All this is in contrast to the attitude of some preachers in the former Portuguese territory of Brazil who insist COVID-19 is divine punishment – the work of Satan – and that the virus is powerless against those who are not afraid of it.

Similarly, some evangelical pastors in the United States are urging congregations to mingle over Easter and ignore any lockdown rules.

American far-right evangelicals, who make up a substantial section of President Donald Trump’s supporters, are heavily into the blame game. They want China to be held accountable for allowing the virus to spread.  

They believe the fundamental cause of this pandemic has been incompetence, corruption and malice on the part of the non-religious Chinese scientific and political establishment. 

A reliable analysis of who has been responsible for the spread of the pandemic is probably still some time away, but it seems probably that Portugal, unlike the UK and the US, will be regarded as one of the countries that  took sufficient decisive action at the right time. 

Meanwhile, the notion that COVID-19 is not what scientists and medical experts are making it out to be is rife on social media. Disinformation is adding to the fears among those who are accessing the Internet in far greater numbers than ever before. 

Crazy conspiracy theories amounting to blatant false news are being circulated to the detriment especially of vulnerable people in self-isolation. This is being done despite the monitoring efforts of Facebook and other social networking platforms.   

Certain elements within the mainstream media are far from innocent in adding confusion among viewers and readers. Some TV reporters have been blathering on and on and on about data revealing not only the number of COVID-19 deaths in various countries, but lots of other bewildering numbers and percentages. Least reported are statistics on those who have contracted coronavirus but survived it without hospitalisation or any significant problems.

The economics of this pandemic are something else, of course. The longer COVID-19 lasts, the greater the ordeal of mass unemployment and collapsing companies. 

Greater clarity on the many coronavirus uncertainties that still exist today in Portugal will have to wait until after Easter.        

Saturday, April 4, 2020

COVID-19: Easter lockdown essential

The coronavirus tide may be turning in Portugal. 

“This month is decisive for us to be able to control the pandemic,” said Prime Minister António Costa as the state of emergency regulations aimed at limiting the spread of the virus was extended for 15 days to April 17.

During Easter – Thursday 9 to Monday 13 – it is forbidden, except in exceptional circumstances, for people to leave the municipality in which they reside. The exceptions include those necessarily travelling to a hospital, a work place, or a home to provide special care. 

The extended emergency decree from President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and backed by parliament came as the number of deaths from the disease in Portugal approached 200.  However, the number of infections and percentage of death is much less than in other European countries, particularly neighbouring Spain.

The effort by the Portuguese to self-discipline is very important and should be reinforced, said the Prime Minister. He was cautious in his predictions, saying that lifting the state of emergency could not be done in a hurry. Further restrictions on the movement of people might even continue for “one, two, three months,” he said. 

The current emergency extension to April 17 is likely to be fully accepted by the Portuguese population at large, though some Lisbon and other northern city dwellers have been criticised for irresponsibly driving south to spend Easter in the Algarve. 

The north, centre and Lisbon areas so far have been much worse affected by the pandemic than the Algarve or Alentejo regions, but most people throughout the country are adhering to appropriate self-isolation and social distancing. 

Most business, cultural and entertainment venues remain closed.  Outlets such as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks are continuing to serve a strictly controlled flow of customers.

Portugal’s internal emergency regulations, border controls with Spain and the grounding of international airlines have brought about a total absence of tourism, the Algarve’s main economic activity.

EasyJet, for example, have announced that they will not be operating any normal scheduled services this month, only repatriation flights. 

Easter is traditionally the start of the annual holiday boom, but hotels and all other holiday accommodation will have to remain closed until the pandemic crisis has been resolved, which may, or may not, be possible before the end of the summer season. 

Crucially, many small and medium-sized companies and their staff rely on revenue from the summer months to see them through the whole of the year.

Those in all sectors of the Algarve tourist trade are hoping that because of Portugal’s efficient handling of the crisis and the relatively low number of coronavirus infections in the region, it will be a top destination and see a surge of visitors from the UK, Germany and elsewhere in northern Europe when COVID-19 is over.