After three weeks of accelerated growth of Covid-19 cases which left the country with the fourth highest death rate per million inhabitants in the European Union, Portugal enters this Friday (15) into a new period of general confinement.
In addition to hospitals, funeral services are under pressure: never, in this country of just over 10 million inhabitants, have so many people died at the same time. Adding deaths from Covid to those for other reasons, the daily average of deaths has been over 500 people for nine consecutive days. Something new.
Portugal is also experiencing a harsh winter, something unusual, and the cold snap, experts say, is contributing to the increase in the figure. This week, there have already been two days with more than 600 deaths. According to the National Institute of Statistics, this mark has not been reached for more than 40 years. The last times occurred on June 14 and 15, 1981, after an unprecedented heat wave.
Overcrowded, Portuguese funeral homes are already asking for help. Carlos Almeida, president of the National Association of Lutuous Enterprises, asked hospitals to increase the capacity of the refrigerated area for the storage of bodies. “There are already corpses in rooms that are refrigerated to a non-ideal temperature, maintained with air conditioning,” he told Lusa news agency.
Currently, there are lines for burials and cremations in various parts of the country. In Lisbon, the wait for cremation can reach 72 hours. Usually, this period did not exceed 24 hours.
In an attempt to stem the growth of infections and deaths, Portugal has now returned to a lockdown similar to the one put in place in March and April. Almost the entire trade and service sector will close again, including beauty salons, fitness centers and cultural activities. Restaurants are starting to operate only with take-out service.
This time, however, the government chose to keep schools and universities open.
Although there was no consensus on the theme, Prime Minister António Costa (Socialist Party) justified his decision by “the need to no longer sacrifice the current generation of students”.
Officially, the measurements are valid for 15 days and after this period, it is necessary to renew them. The Prime Minister has, however, already said that they should not last less than a month.
In addition to schools, churches and other religious temples are still open, but with capacity restrictions and mandatory social protection and distance measures. Professional sports, including the national football championship, will not be stopped either – there will be no spectators in the stadiums.
Due to the presidential election on the 24th, special freedom of movement for voters is provided.
After an initial period of good fight against the pandemic, the government has been criticized for this new peak in infections. While other European countries chose to tighten restrictions on Christmas, Portugal went the other way and relaxed the rules between December 23 and 26.
There was, for example, no maximum number of people for celebrations or travel bans.
Even with the restrictions tightening in the New Year, experts see serious consequences in the decision to ease the measures over the Christmas period. Since March, Portugal has recorded 517,806 confirmed cases and 8,384 deaths from Covid-19.