Saturday, December 11, 2021

A COVID survivor tells us what may await if we don’t take care

Some people continue to be complacent about becoming infected by COVID-19 even with the uncertainties posed by the latest variant in the run-up to the normally busy festive season.  

One thing virtually all medical experts agree on is that as many people as possible should get fully vaccinated, yet some people are still refusing to do so despite the current widespread surge in infection and death rates.

In recent days we spoke to a resident in the Algarve who is suffering from post-COVID condition, otherwise known as long COVID. He wished to remain anonymous, but wanted to encourage those refusing vaccines to change their minds and get the jabs as soon as possible. Those refusing because of complacency “are stark, staring mad!” he said.

He has had personal experiences he would not want anyone else to go through. Indeed, he feels very fortunate to have survived.

How he contracted the virus almost a year ago remains something of a mystery. He was living alone in a relatively isolated home and had stopped mixing with almost everyone except when he went shopping no more than once a week in the nearest supermarket.

Did he wear a facemask and adhere to the social distancing rules when he went shopping? “Absolutely!” he said. “Like everyone else I was being cautious about my movements.” However, he had not been vaccinated when he contracted the virus because the slow-starting vaccination programme in Portugal had barely begun.

His first reaction to feeling COVID symptoms was one of shock. “I felt hot, feverish and weak. An ambulance took me to the hospital in Portimão where I was diagnosed and admitted to intensive care. It all happened rather fast and I didn’t really have time to take it in.

“After two weeks on forced oxygen, my kidneys started to pack up and I needed dialysis. I had the two weeks hooked up to all those hospital machines, staring at strip lights in the ceiling that are never turned off, and occasionally getting a glimpse of someone who hadn’t made it.

“I had four days of paranoia and was convinced the hospital staff were out to kill me. I reacted violently to their ministrations.

All in all, not a good experience. Does someone refusing to be vaccinated want to go through that?”

He continued: “Now, almost a year on, I struggle with energy levels and feel tired most of the time. I have great difficulty sleeping and constant flash-backs.”

Much remains unknown about long COVID. Thus, since his release from hospital he has had numerous tests and is not expecting to have his last one until next February.

The longer the virus circulates, the more dangerous its variants may become here in Portugal as across the world, but vaccination reluctance continues.

Complacency is not the only reason. Lack of confidence is another, even though the data shows that the benefits of all the well-known vaccines vastly outweigh the risks. Full vaccinations have so far proved to be at least 90% efficient in giving protection. The reason for having them is self-evident.

Few can use the excuse that getting a jab is inconvenient. The programme in Portugal is efficient and the percentage of the population with at least double jabs (88%) is one of highest in the world.

Psychologists say that fear of needles causes some vaccine reluctance. Other more complex psychological reasons exist too and misinformation has played a significant part in the problem. 

Somehow complacency and unreasonable concerns must be overcome if possible, all the more so because the Omicron variant is extraordinarily transmissible. It has convinced many scientists that COVID will be rampant for at least another one or two years and booster jabs may be recommended annually. 

Meanwhile, the plea from our Portimão Hospital survivor:  “Get vaccinated and take all the proper precautions!”

Saturday, December 4, 2021

More clarity needed before euthanasia IS legalised


At some stage after the election on 30th January, the Portuguese parliament will probably want to update the previous parliament’s plan to legalise euthanasia.

 A complex and controversial subject sometimes difficult to cope with by those directly involved, euthanasia must have well-defined legal and medical parameters for physicians, just as it requires a profound personal decision by those facing death, and maybe their families too.

In general terms, euthanasia and assisted suicide mean the deliberate ending of a person’s life to relieve unmanageable suffering. It is often carried out at the voluntary request of a patient of sound mind by doctors painlessly administering, or withholding, a vital drug. Assisted suicide under the supervision of a doctor in accordance with strict conditions usually allows a patient to personally use a drug to end their own life, or insist that all life support should be stopped.

Portugal’s parliament approved a euthanasia bill in January this year, but it was rejected in March by the country’s Constitutional Court to whom it had been referred by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. The court, the highest in the land, ruled that the proposed bill was too imprecise.

A revised version, which was backed by a large majority of parliamentarians last month, was again vetoed by the president on the same grounds. There was insufficient clarity in the wording. It has been pointed out, for example, that the degree of illness to justify euthanasia was variously referred to in the bill as “fatal”, “incurable” or just “serious.”

The composition of political parties in the next parliament may bring about a different attitude to the draft euthanasia proposal, but if and when it passes into law, Portugal will join a few other countries with legislation on euthanasia, namely Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, the American states of Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. It is also legal in parts of Australia.

Many people in Portugal, where the predominant religion is Catholicism, firmly oppose euthanasia on the grounds that it is against “the word and will of God.”  President de Sousa is himself a staunch Catholic. Other reasons for opposing euthanasia in Portugal and elsewhere on religious or moral grounds include the belief that it disrespects the sanctity of life, that it underestimates the value of hospice care, that it can be abused for financial reasons, that it gives doctors too much power, that it may discourage research into the development of new cures.

 The view of some Christians and non-religious people, however, is that euthanasia carried out entirely legally and under proper conditions allows death with dignity and is fully justified as an act of love and compassion.

What do you think?  

Corrupt football clubs and officials still scoring own goals


After the English Football Association Cup Final in January 1884 between Preston North End and the London side, Upton Park, it was revealed that Preston was breaking the rules by paying its players and so their manager was duly expelled from the annual competition.

In 1885 the English FA decided to make it permissible for a club to pay players, but only if they were born or had lived for at least two years within a six mile radius of the club’s ground.

In 1901 the same FA imposed a maximum weekly wage of £4 per player in even the top football clubs.

Manchester City was involved in a scandal at the climax of the 1904-5 season when it needed to beat Aston Villa to top the First Division. Aston Villa won 3-1, meaning Manchester City finished two points behind Newcastle United in the championship.  Aston Villa’s captain said that, one of Manchester’s star players had offered him a £10 bribe to lose the game. The Manchester player was found guilty, fined and banned from playing for 18 months. As the club refused to help him financially, the Manchester player divulged publicly that his club had been paying players over the £4 a week legal limit. The outrage resulted in the dismissal or suspension of nine senior officials and a ban on 17 players for ever plating for the club again.

Since those harsh punishments more than a century ago, corruption has spread throughout the footballing world, including Portugal, and it has exploded into a quagmire of criminal activities involving vast amounts of money.  

Top Portuguese clubs have yet again been making headline news for the wrong reasons. Public prosecution officials last week made searches in premises closely associated with FC Porto and its chief executive, Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa.  Among other things they are investigating the payment of €9 million to two agents as part of the €50 million transfer deal for a Brazilian player from Porto to Real Madrid in 2019. The investigation is looking into suspected tax fraud, swindling, abuse of trust and money laundering connected with the transfer of players.

Investigators have long taken an interest in Pinto da Costa. In the so-called Golden Whistle scandal in 2004 and for several years after that he was suspected of corrupting or attempting to corrupt match referees. In 2008 the Portuguese Professional League suspended him for two years, relegated FC Porto and imposed a fine of €150,000.  Porto’s Boavista FC, was also relegated and fined €180,000.

‘Golden Whistle’ phone taps on Pinto da Costa conspiring in 2010  to offer not only cash but prostitutes to referees were leaked and published on YouTube, but not accepted as proof of wrong-doing  by the courts. The accusations, however, backed up opinions that he was not only one of the most successful executives in Portuguese football, but also one of the most corrupt.

Many other Portuguese football officials are said to have been involved in various kinds of deep-seated corruption, none more so than Luis Filipe Vieira president of Lisbon’s Benfica, the most popular of all football clubs in Portugal and FC Porto’s biggest rival. He too has long been suspected of tax fraud and money laundering on a grand scale. He is said to have been helped because he is on friendly terms with highly influential Benfica fans, including judges and leading politicians.

Vieira was detained and placed under house arrest in July this year while investigations continued into suspected tax fraud, money laundering and other crimes involving more than €100 million “that may have caused considerable damage to the state and several companies,” according to Portugal’s Central Department of Investigation and Criminal Action.

Vieira, who ran Benfica for 18 years, resigned and a court ordered him to hand over his passport and allowed him 20 days to pay bail of €3 million. Among three other people detained and released on bail was Vieira’s son, Tiago.   

The Portuguese whistle-blower, Rui Pinto, who grew up as an FC Porto fan, gathered millions of confidential documents and 3.4 terabytes of information that exposed corruption on a truly massive scale, not only in Portugal but across Europe and beyond. Among other things, the data indicated the role of offshore tax havens for huge transfer deals and club investments that were poorly policed.

Rui Pinto’s football leaks fed to a network of investigative journalists resulted in him being arrested, extradited from Hungary and eventually brought before the Lisbon Central Criminal Court to face scores of charges related to hacking.

But the cat was out of the bag. Judicial inquiries were launched in France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. Major clubs, transfer agents and top players were implicated.  Among the latter was the Portuguese international superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, who ended up in 2019 agreeing to pay €18.8 million in Spain for tax evasion.   

World football’s governing body, FIFA, has been steeped in corrupt practices dating back at least two decades with evidence of everything from ticket fiddling and awarding dodgy media contracts to vote rigging in Qatar's bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA has been in the spotlight again very recently as its former president, Sepp Blatter, ousted in an extraordinary fraud scandal in 2015, has now been indicted on fraud, criminal mismanagement and forgery charges in Switzerland for arranging a secret €2 million payment in 2011. Also charged is Michel Platini, who allegedly received the payment when he was the head of the much blighted European football union, UEFA.

On and on it goes.... Manchester City FC, which was up to those tricks more than a century ago, was last year banned by UEFA from competitions for two years and fined €30 million, but this decision was overturned on appeal because its alleged corruption activity dated back more than  the five-year statute of limitation. UEFA was left looking more shame-faced than Man City.

The latest news connected with corruption is that the British government has just endorsed in principle the setting up of an independent regulator for English football. Not a bad idea for other countries to consider, but, like the coronavirus pandemic, vile corruption in the world of football is not likely to go away any time soon.