Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa last week announced that Portugal would return to the "state of calamity" on December 1 with reinforced measures to curb Covid-19 infections.
Chinese news outlet Xinhua reported that according to Costa, “the first measure to be taken is the reinforcement of the vaccination campaign with the booster dose”.
“The government has acquired in time the requisite amount of vaccine doses to be administered to each Portuguese” and authorities were “prepared to vaccinate eligible children,” he said.
The wearing of face masks will once again be mandatory in all closed spaces, the Council of Ministers said and a digital vaccination certificate will also be mandatory for access to restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs, sporting events and gyms.
Those wishing to enter retirement homes and health establishments, or attend major cultural or sporting events will be required to present a negative test regardless of whether they were fully vaccinated.
Portugal has also “strongly increased sanctions” for airlines with fines of 20 000 euros per passenger in case of non-compliance of a negative Covid-19 test.
Portugal has the highest vaccination rate in the world, but has had to return to a “state of calamity” with mask mandates, vaccine passports, and mandatory testing to enter certain establishments.
As recently as in October, Portugal declared that it stood “as an example not only to the world but also to itself” because “the vaccination campaign proved to be a success in ‘beating this virus’ after the Covid task force chief Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo stepped in. Socialists lauded the high jab rate as the “Portuguese success story” and “historical”.
Gouveia e Melo was appointed as Coordinator of the Covid-19 Vaccination Plan Task Force, the unit set up by the Portuguese government to assure the strategic planning and logistics for the national mass immunization campaign. Gouveia e Melo was appointed to head the task force on 3 February 2021, following the resignation of the first coordinator, former Secretary of State for Health Francisco Ramos, over a “queue jumping” scandal, in which people not belonging to priority groups allegedly were receiving their vaccines before their turn.
Admiral Gouveia e Melo began to wear only his green combat uniform in public as well and used not only “the language of war” but military language in public outreach attempts. By October 2021, 98 percent of the eligible population and 86 percent of the total population were vaccinated.
On 4 October 2021, shortly after the Vaccination Task Force disbanded, Gouveia e Melo was awarded the Golden Globe for Merit and Excellence in a ceremony in Coliseu dos Recreios. As he was presented with the award by Francisco Pinto Balsemão, former Prime Minister and Chairman of Grupo Impresa, he received a standing ovation, and on his speech thanked every Portuguese that had contributed to the “success” of the vaccination effort. He said he would leave his trophy at the Ministry of Health.
Gouveia e Melo has been extremely harsh to Portugal’s tiny number of vaccine critics. “Negationism and obscurantism are the true killers,” Gouveia e Melo told journalists after protesters tried to ask him questions outside a vaccination center in August. Gouveia e Melo credited himself, the national health service Serviço Nacional de Saúde, its professionals, and its patients for the “historic accomplishment”.
The cost of a premature mutual admiration society
These particularly stupid public health pronouncements have had some serious financial impacts. Overtime and service provision have cost the national health service more than 400 million euros, something that Gouveia e Melo evidently did not include in his lofty estimations.
By September, nurses had worked more than five million overtime hours and doctors more than four million and the number of hours overworked continues to rise. In the first ten months of this year, they amounted to 18.5 million, already surpassing the entire amount realized last year.
Until October, health professionals had worked over 1,2 million extra hours than the total performed in the entire past year to fill the need for human resources, according to data from the Central Administration of the Health System (ACSS).
On the day when it was once again mandatory to present the digital certificate in restaurants and other places, access via mobile phone applications was unavailable and the number of new cases of Covid-19 in Portugal reached a peak of 4670.
This is similar to February this year when the country was facing the worst crisis of the pandemic.
Portugal is also now the only EU country without diagnostic data for 2020 in the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control report on surveillance of HIV/AIDS infection. Hospitals with difficulty in reporting cases, and fewer than 500 were reported due to computer system problems.
According to reports, this is another side effect of the Covid-19 pandemic: Portugal does not know how many new cases of HIV/AIDS emerged in 2020. In the first year of the pandemic, less than 500 new cases were reported, a substantially lower number than usual.
Those responsible for the General Directorate of Health (DGS) and the National Institute of Health Doctor Ricardo Jorge chose not to disclose the data on the rate of HIV infection in the country, both nationally and internationally.
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