Note: The writer of this article about Coronavirus(COVID-19) in Portugal is by no means a health expert
There is reliable and frequently updated advice on the websites for the World Health Organization, Portugal’s Serviço Nacional de Saude (national health service—click the globe at the top right to switch to English), and for Portugal’s Direção-Geral de Saude (public health authority). The last of these is in Portuguese but includes numbers and maps.
The second thing you need to know is that you should not travel here now. Europe has become the epicenter of the outbreak, and people here are taking it seriously. Even though Portugal’s situation is less dire than that of countries like Italy and Spain, we have moved into a strict containment plan. Portuguese are losing their incomes, closing their businesses and taking painful measures all around. Others should respect them and follow suit.
Even though I am not an expert, I live here. Friends and colleagues have been asking for updates, so here they are.
On Saturday, March 14, the DGS was reporting 169 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Portugal, one recovered patient and zero deaths in Portugal. Most cases are concentrated in the northern region around Porto and, increasingly, in and around the capital of Lisbon. The Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Açores and parts of the mainland still have no cases, and they are under heightened vigilance. This afternoon the government directed a quarantine of all passengers arriving to the islands.
That doesn’t sound so bad, but to put things in perspective, there were 78 total cases on Thursday. Also, Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe, with 20.7% percent of the population over age 65, according to statistics from the Population Research Board. And according to 2018 statistics from Pordata (a database frequently used by local journalists), Portugal had only 225.8 hospital beds per 100,000 people.
It’s not difficult to imagine the health system becoming overwhelmed (some hospitals are already using tents). The idea of flattening the curve feels urgent here.
And so on Thursday night, after the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Portugal’s ministers of public affairs and health made a declaration of a Situation of Alert that will remain in place until April 9. It includes measures such as a prohibition on public events, the closure of nightclubs and a directive that residents follow instructions and orders from public health and civil protection officials.
This was hardly the first step. In the past few days, there have been reports of announcements about the closing of universities, public offices, museums, cinemas, theaters and monuments; strong recommendations for working from home; limited hours for grocery stores and shopping centers; restrictions on entry to pharmacies; and a policy of reducing capacity of restaurants to one-third of the usual amount, to ensure social distancing of a meter or more between people. Many restaurants are opting to switch to delivery or close entirely instead.
The government also announced in a speech that it will close all schools beginning on Monday. There is a growing sense of “cancel everything and stay at home.”
If each day of the past two weeks has felt increasingly surreal, Friday and Saturday got more surreal by the hour. My inbox and social media feeds filled up with announcements of closures. The streets felt more deserted by the hour, and by Saturday morning, it was a ghost town, at least according to photos on my Instagram feed—I wasn’t out in it.
The final thing you need to know about the coronavirus in Portugal is that the situation changes all the time. In the time it took me to write this, television journalists broadcast reports of more closures, more suspected cases and potential new measures. Just now, they announced the closure of all bars (including snack bars and café) starting in one hour. Like everywhere, it is a head-spinning time here.
Keep checking the WHO and DGS websites. For updated news in English about the outbreak and response, consult Safe Communities Portugal or the Portugal News. If you can read Portuguese, there are more comprehensive, frequently updated and reliable sources, such as the newspaper Publico.
Writer | Ann Abel Mar 14, 2020,04:21pm