The year we will not forget and the New Year we wish to remember
A year ago today I published an extensive article on these pages, which I titled “A Decisive Decade”, in which I stated our ambitious agenda for the decade, around the four major strategic challenges we face: climate change, demographic dynamics, digital transition, inequalities.
Two months later, on March 2, Portugal was diagnosed with the first case of covid-19. From one moment to the next, the world was swept away by a pandemic that decimated lives and created the biggest global economic crisis in our lives. Among us, we already regret the loss of 6906 lives and more than 400 000 people are or have been infected. The public health crisis has had a dramatic effect on all dimensions – personal, family, social, professional – of our lives. And it hit our economy brutally, especially in sectors such as tourism, restaurants, commerce or culture, interrupting a four-year cycle of growth above the Eurozone average, a strong reduction in unemployment, growth in exports, improving incomes, which culminated in the first budgetary surplus of our democracy.
The collective mobilization of the Portuguese, the ability to convert our industry and its workers to the production of individual protection means, the prompt adaptation to teleworking, especially of teachers and students, and the extraordinary dedication of health professionals and professionals and other essential services allowed us to overcome the first wave of the pandemic. It was a year in which we reinforced our sense of belonging to a community that did not give up hope, resisted, fought, which surpassed itself as a nation. And so we continue to contain this second wave and prevent further upsurge.
It is in these moments of crisis that the importance of a robust social state and balanced public finances is emphasized. What would the last months have been like without a public school that, even though closed, ensured by all means the continuity of learning? And without Social Security support lay-off companies, unemployed workers, who created new social benefits to respond to atypical forms of work, reinforced support for homes? And, above all, without the NHS, which from public health to intensive care units responded to an unprecedented pressure in its 41 years? What would it have been like if we could not have increased public spending by € 4107M without having to resort to any tax increase and keeping our external credibility unscathed? Just in the context of extraordinary measures to support employment and family income, we supported more than 2 million people and 150 thousand companies, in a unique public policy effort.
This was also a defining moment for the European project. This time the European institutions were swift and assertive in their response, mainly to the historic decisions of joint purchase of anti-HIV vaccines and the joint issuance of debt to finance an extraordinary program of economic recovery.
I am sure that we will never forget this year of 2020. But we have the opportunity to make 2021 a year that we will want to remember.
Two decisive factors justify our confidence. The first, obviously, is the start of the vaccination process, which requires great international cooperation to ensure that the vaccine reaches all human beings, wherever they reside and whatever their economic and social condition.
In the European Union, and consequently in Portugal, the process will be long and will continue until the end of the first quarter of 2022, although the greatest vaccination effort is already concentrated between March and September 2021. If vaccines that are under development succeed, if those that are already approved are approved, if no mishap occurs with the production of the vaccine that is already being administered, everything will continue to go as planned and at the end of the summer it is possible that we will achieve the desired group immunity .
This is obviously the priority of the priorities and will concentrate a large part of our collective effort throughout the year that begins today.