Article from Expresso

New Measures for New Year Period

In recent days a consensus has begun to emerge that the rules for the New Year should be tightened. And in the end that is what the government decided. Christmas will continue with the rules that were set but the New Year’s Eve will be much more restricted. The Council of Ministers, meeting this Thursday, decided that movement on public roads would be banned from 23h00 on the 31st – when it was previously allowed until 02h00 – thus limiting the festivities at the end of the year.

The signs that had emerged were in this direction: of a tightening of restrictions after Christmas, in order to contain as many contagions as possible, in part because experts considered the plan “risky”. Thus, in addition to the New Year’s limitation, there will also be a curfew on days 1, 2 and 3 from 13h00. As had been defined, the ban on movement between municipalities is maintained between 00h00 on 31 December and 05h00 on 4 January.

The pressure for something to change in the next 15 days has grown stronger not because of the number of cases, which has been falling, but because of the deaths associated with the disease, a number that is stubbornly not decreasing: for eight days they have remained above 80 and have already reached record numbers of 98 people in one day. This is what Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa noted in the new state of emergency decree: “The number of deaths are still very high, and the experts confirm the clear risks of a further worsening of the pandemic if the measures taken to deal with it are reduced”.

On the political side, the President of the Republic is appealing to the “common sense, civic maturity and just restraint” of the Portuguese at Christmas, asking them for a “contract of trust”, in a message he left after the approval of the new state of emergency – which lasts until January 7.

Decisions in other European countries have also been assessed with a magnifying glass. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom tightened the rules for this period, going back on what had been decided. All this happens as the Prime Minister is, for the first time in 10 months, in prophylactic isolation after having lunch with the French President, Emmanuel Macron – who tested positive for the virus. Costa’s first test, done this Thursday, was negative. The Prime Minister has no symptoms and has continued work from a distance.


Christmas, a poisoned gift

What will happen at Christmas will depend more on all of us and less on what the government says, experts believe, but nevertheless they consider it “risky to keep the restrictions open at Christmas,” says Expresso Manuel Carmo Gomes, professor of Epidemiology at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon. According to the expert, it is not possible to anticipate the size of the increase in cases in January, but it should not be “as high as in October or November. Everything depends on the behaviour of the population: “We have never experienced a Christmas season like this and we know that it is a time very much influenced by a social behaviour factor that is difficult to anticipate”.

In order for it to depend on each one, “more information should be given so that people clearly know what to do”, suggests the head of the crisis office for covid-19 of the Order of Physicians (OM), Filipe Froes. “More restrictions should be advised in a pedagogical way, as a civic duty, and this should be a continuum”, he adds.

The diagnosis is shared by infectiologist Margarida Tavares at São João Hospital. “I have always been very critical of the restrictive measures imposed because they do not prevent people from doing what they want. What makes a difference are the awareness messages, but in this case what people have retained is ‘alleviating'”. A few days before Christmas, lung specialist Filipe Froes believes that it will be difficult to get families to change their plans. However, there are some cautions that need to be taken: “I advise you to avoid travel, crowds when shopping and more than two households gathered at home”.

António Diniz, also a member of the OM office, warns that the greater freedom during this season is a poisoned gift. “The number of new daily cases is high and there was little appreciation for the fact that they came after two exceptional periods with many people at home and a sharp drop in the volume of tests performed. It will be very difficult that in the following 15 days there will not be a significant resurgence of infections”.

The greater freedom of movement will have consequences: “It will be very costly in January. As nothing has changed, we will return to the number of cases from a few weeks ago, with the aggravating factor that we already have full intensive care units,” warns the former Secretary of State for Health, Raquel Duarte.

“The siege should have been tightened as early as October to bring the numbers down further during the festive period,” adds António Diniz. Now it is necessary to contain damage, “to have tables or places per household when there is more than one household or to keep children away from family members at risk”. And be very careful with false senses of security. “The rapid test is above all to evaluate the infectivity, that is, whether we can transmit the infection. A negative result only ensures that the virus does not spread within 18 to 24 hours at most”. The times are of battle against the virus and the speech must be at the same level. “A broad national mobilisation was lacking, almost as if for war. To tell the Portuguese that we will have to sacrifice a little of our social and affective freedom for a greater value,” he says.

For José Artur Paiva, president of the College of Intensive Care Medicine of OM, “we have a tangible goal and this vision must be given. With one million vaccinated in the first phase and nearly one million who have already had the disease, we can achieve group immunity in six months and that will be all the better if our behaviour is adequate. For that we need social restriction this Christmas and New Year”, he explains. “People are very tired, very lonely, and the emotional argument is far superior to the scientific one. Therefore, the only way is to use a little emotion in science”, he prescribes to the Government.