Marcelo shuts Portugal down
In a televised address to the nation yesterday evening, Portugal’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa decreed a further extension to the State of Emergency, saying that an effective lockdown would likely continue throughout February and possibly into the whole of March as well.
The Portuguese parliament had approved the presidential decree on Thursday which will extend the State of Emergency for a further 15 days until the 14 February.
“What we do to March will decide what spring will look like, and who knows, even what the autumn will look like. Everything will be in play in the coming weeks until the English variant passes,” said Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in his 8pm address to the nation.
Earlier in the day, on Thursday, the government had already said it would close the borders to all flights and non-essential road traffic for journeys abroad for 15 days, for national citizens, as well as prohibiting non-essential journeys from one city to another in Portugal. This, in addition to measures already in place to prevent people from travelling outside their municipal district without a written justification in areas with high concentrations of covid such as Greater Lisbon, justifications meaning essential work that cannot be done remotely, or attending a hospital appointment.
To this is added the furore of the government’s initial decision, widely seen as political, to prohibit all schools, both private and public, from conducting distance learning to create a level playing field for those pupils in the state system whose schools do not have the setup or have received the laptop computers needed to facilitate learning from home. The government backtracked and announced that distance learning would be allowed from 8 February.
The President of the Republic admitted that it would take an enormous effort through these restrictions into March, and that these next weeks would be decisive as to how the pandemic would unfold given that it could continue into the autumn.
“We have to be prepared for a tough lockdown and distance learning, one that had not been anticipated before the escalation in the spread of the virus,” he said. By Thursday a new record in Portugal had been set, with a further 16,432 infected and 303 deaths in 24 hours.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said the country was going through the “most difficult moment of the pandemic” one in which the English variant of the virus had arisen and was spreading like wildfire, now including more than 50% of all cases in Greater Lisbon. “The pressure on health sector services in Greater Lisbon is extreme,” he explained.
The President, who was reelected on Sunday with a landslide victory from the 40% or so who did vote in Portugal, said it was possible that this wave had begun in the West: “If that’s the case and Portugal is one of the first and not the last to suffer from this pandemic (wave), then we need to act quickly and drastically,” he said.