The Prime Minister revealed to Expresso the intention of “announcing the calendar and program of progressive reduction in measures” at the Council of Ministers on April 30th .
In an interview with the weekly Expresso, released today in full, António Costa states, that the economic recovery plan after the Covid-19 pandemic “must be based on a very strong investment programme”, highlighting areas such as railways and hospitals, and “an employment program that encourages using as much of the available labour as possible”, both in the area of public and social employment.
“We had huge issues in the area of construction concerning lack of manpower, I believe it is a problem (which due to the unfortunate issues raised by the pandemic) that will no longer exist. We have the forest restructuring program, which required intensive labour, because we have the possibility of fires arising later in the year. We also need to fully reinforce the conditions of personal support, because the fragility of human resources of many social organisations has become evident “, he continued.
The prime minister reiterated that “the country does not need austerity”, but rather needs to relaunch the economy, but he refuses to give a definitive answer on how this can be achieved: “I have been working on this for many years and will not give today an answer that I cannot guarantee tomorrow”
On the reopening of businesses at the end of the next emergency period, which will remain in effect until May 2nd – the date chosen to prevent the long weekend of May 1st from being “another moment of risk” – the first-minister confirms that there will a further meeting April 28th between political representatives and the team of scientists working for the General Directorate of Health (DGS).
“What we are hoping is, in the Council of Ministers on April 30th, to be able to announce the calendar and the program of progressive reduction of the current measures concerning the education system, along with commercial, catering and cultural activities “, he says.
Asked if there could still be some kind of re-opening in April, Costa did not discount this: “As soon as possible, we will take the first steps. We will not be delaying measures.”
As for the use of beaches this summer, the Prime Minister admits that there may be restrictions in place, particularly on those beaches which are known for large crowds.
“These large gatherings will not be permissable. Municipalities and councils will have to take the necessary measures so that the public can go to the beach but not in large numbers,” he said.
To Expresso, Costa reiterated the ‘re-opening’ script that he had drawn up in the Assembly of the Republic and which, with regards to the economy, will start with small commerce and, in the educational system, with daycare centres – explaining that this will not impact on the eventual restart of the 11th and 12th year classroom classes – and warns that in schools and public transport “the use of a community mask will be mandatory”.
The Prime Minister points to returning to work in June – most certainly implementing different working patterns in terms of hours per day and days per week – and, regarding cultural activities, he does not commit himself to a date for the holding of major festivals, or managing cinema outings”.
“In a cinema currently, seating is restricted, seats are all booked and they can only sell tickets in two rows, using every third seat”, he confirmed.
On the return of the football championships, Costa admits that it is possible to conclude them “behind closed doors or only with the restricted seats managed by the stadium”
Asked if the North region, where there are more cases of Covid-19, could have a later reduction in measures, he replies: “We would not like to make regional differences”.
The prime minister also rejects the possibility that people can be monitored electronically, admitting only that citizens can voluntarily download applications that serve to share “warnings among themselves and without intervention by authorities”.
António Costa stresses that all measures will be taken gradually and the resulting impact on the evolution of Covid-19 will be measured in order to “not run the risk of having to reverse the steps”, although this cannot be ruled out: “The first priority was to contain the pandemic without killing the economy. The new priority we have now is to revive the economy without allowing the pandemic to get out of control”.
At a political level, Costa highlights the “huge political and social consensus” that has existed in the country, disputing any disagreement with the President of the Republic regarding this latest decree on the state of emergency and gave a word of “recognition for the position” of the leader of the PSD, Rui Rio.
Regarding the European Council that takes place on April 23rd, António Costa hopes that clear answers will be given to the global pandemic problem
“Are we going to have a recovery fund or not? What form will this fund take? Will it be integrated into the next multi-annual framework? Will it be financed by reinforcing transfers, by issuing EU debt, or by boosting resources by creating new rates? “, are all questions that need to be addressed.