Unsustainable

Portugal’s brittle healthcare system is under growing pressure due to an unprecedented rise in coronavirus infections as a result of a relaxation of the measures during Christmas.

Even after a stricter lockdown was put in place on the 15th of January, the number of new cases continued to rise to over 1000 per 100.000 inhabitants. Nearly double that in hard-hit Spain and three times as much as in the Netherlands. This week’s increase is even the biggest in the world!

The health system – which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100.000 inhabitants in Europe – can accommodate a maximum number of 675 Covid patients in ICUs. Currently, more than 95% of the ICU beds are occupied and a further increase in the number of patients is expected over the coming weeks.

‘The impact in hospitals is huge because the number of beds doesn’t increase, the walls are not expandable and health workers are not multiplying’ declared Antonio Pais de Lacerda, a doctor at Lisbon’s biggest hospital Santa Maria.

It is predicted that as many people will die in the next two months as in the last ten and that daily case numbers will not drop before February. Media images of ambulances with patients queuing outside major hospitals in Lisbon waiting for beds, raise fears whether the National Health System (SNS) is on the verge of collapse.

At a recent Infarmed meeting – where government hears the opinion of experts – it was estimated that it will take at least two months for the country to return to pre-Christmas levels. The feeling also was that testing – currently around 47,000 tests a day with around 18% positive results – should be increased, especially in old people’s homes.

With a daily death toll reaching a record high of 218 – one death every seven minutes – and 10.455 new cases, the authorities desperately try to put a lid on the spread of infections. In a country just over 10 million already over 9000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.

In view of the unacceptable rise in the number of cases and deaths, Prime Minister António Costa issued – just 3 days after a stricter lockdown was put in place – even tougher restrictions, similar to the ones during the lockdown of March/April last year. Schools, however, will remain open, much to the dislike of the Ordem dos Médicos, that has called for an immediate closure to save lives.  

It will be clear that protection of the elderly has failed and that until a successful roll-out of the vaccination programme is in place, tension will prevail.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Expresso)


Rivals

Lisbon and Porto – the country’s two largest cities – are rivals.
Not equivalent or complementary, much less comparable.

Fernando Lemos (1926-2019) – artist, photographer, painter and poet expressed it his way.

‘I am from Porto but I am a Lisboeta. More than Portuguese, I am a Lisboeta.
I think Lisbon is the place from where to leave and Porto the place to stay. Porto has everything to live in.
In Lisbon one does not reside. Lisbon is a place to start from. And, over time, has expanded and become a place of offices, almost without homes.
Porto is an excellent place to live in. The construction, its physical form – regardless its architecture – gives distinction to the residencies, the love of living. Our home is our stage, the place where we live and express our life. Lisbon doesn’t have much of that, because everyone leaves.

Lisbon is full of first and second and third and ninth opportunities. In Lisbon everything is possible. Lisbon is full of people by day – giving way to different people at night – and people who renew themselves constantly. Those who dream of great achievements arrive into Lisbon every day. Ex-dreamers leave Lisbon, crushed by the city’s impatience. And amidst these people – who come and go – we discover resistant people, who teach us the defence techniques to resist the city’s blows. Black belts of friendship, experts in making their followers feel welcome to Lisbon. In them we find company, support and distraction. The Lisbon that seemed hostile becomes a Lisbon available to us.

I was shaped in Porto but defined in Lisbon.’

Stay safe                                                                      Fique saudável






Mains

Traditional food is based on fish, seafood or pork with lots of olive oil.

Bacalhau is the undisputed National dish, especially on Christmas Eve when 4 to 5 thousand tons of Norwegian cod is devoured.
Cod became prominent during the Discovery Era because it could be stored for longer periods. You can see and smell the large hard chunks in shops, where a small saw is often used to cut the fish. Salted cod is primarily soaked for at least 24 hours in water before cooking, grilling, frying, or braising

Popular dishes are cod baked with cream (bacalhau com natas), stir-fried with shredded potato, eggs, and onions (bacalhau à brás) and cod with chicken peas (meia-desfeita).
Meia-desfeita (‘half-undone’) stems from the times when one used to order only half the dish.

Arroz de marisco consists of rice, monkfish, and seafood like prawns, mussels, squid, or clams and is usually seasoned with fresh herbs and white wine. Unlike the Spanish paella, it is not fried and often described as a thick rice stew.

Polvo à Lagareiro is made in the style of Lagareiro. In this case, the octopus is boiled, then cut into pieces, grilled, and brushed with extra virgin olive oil. The dish is dressed with a combination of garlic, coriander, lemon juice, and salt, served with small roasted potatoes with their skin intact and lots of olive oil.

Cataplana de marisco refers to a popular fish- or seafood dish sharing the same name as the clam-shaped copper pan in which it is prepared. The Moors introduced the dish which usually includes white fish, shellfish, red peppers, onions, and a bit of chili.


Alheira is a smoked sausage typically made with various types of meat, bread, garlic, olive oil, and paprika. It is believed to be invented during the Inquisition by Portuguese Jews. To disguise as Christians they started producing pork-like sausages but would replace the traditional pork with poultry and game.


Feijoada à portuguesa is a hearty bean stew originating in the north of the country before it was introduced in Brazil, where it is considered the National dish. It is made with red kidney or white beans and usually includes pork (ears, foot), morcela (blood sausage), or chouriço.

Iscas com elas are thin strips of cow’s liver, sautéed in wine and garlic. They’re served with boiled potatoes (referred to as elas – meaning them). The dish was brought to the country by the Galicians, who arrived in the 18th century to work in, and later own restaurants and cafés.


Cozido à portuguesa is a rustic stew for meat lovers. It usually consists of beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausages, such as morcela, chouriço, or alheira. It might also contain other bits of animal-like pig’s ear or foot – and potatoes, cabbage, or carrots. All the ingredients are cooked together in a single pot with different items added at different times.



Boas Festas        Stay Healthy      (pic tasteatlas/roads&kingdoms/sapo)










Residents

Portuguese citizenship is hot. The latest report by the borders agency SEF shows that last year more than 74,000 foreigners applied for Portuguese nationality. For the first time in history, the country’s foreign resident population exceeds half a million people (5% of the total population).

Most requests for citizenship are related to naturalization and reunion. Foreigners who acquired citizenship in 2019 came from Brazil (23.000), Israel (18.500), Cape Verde (6500), Angola (3000), Ukraine (2500), Guinea-Bissau (2500), and Turkey (1500).

Brazilians remain the largest foreign resident community in Portugal (with 150.000, representing 26% of last year’s total), followed by Cape Verdeans, Brits, Romanians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Italians, French, and Angolans.

Last year also saw a notable increase in the number of Indians and Nepalese coming for work. There are now approximately 18,000 Indians and 17.000 Nepalese legally living in the country.

Asylum applications increased as well by 45% last year, reaching 1850, the highest since 2015. The majority were single men from the African continent.

Even the Golden Visa program has seen an uplift of applications in the first quarter of 2020. Between January and April, 260 applicants and 515 dependents received their residence cards. Although the Golden Visa program was due to be curtailed in the 2019 State Budget, it will be continued in the light of the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.

On the contrary, markedly fewer refugee statuses were granted citizenship  (183 in 2019 against 286 in 2020), predominantly to nationals of Asian countries.

However, as part of a European reallocation program, Greece finally succeeded in relocating 25 Afghan boys between 15 an17 years of age from their overcrowded migrant camps to Portugal. Besides Germany, the UK, and Luxembourg, Portugal is one of the few countries in the EU that in fact responds to the Greek request. The intention is to host 250 unaccompanied minors by the end of the year.

In contrast to other countries aiming to reduce immigration, the Portuguese socialist-led minority government wants to attract more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country’s low birth-rate and aging population.

Portugal is one of the 10 EU states where fewer than 5% of residents are foreign-born. It is in this light that Parliament just before the holidays approved Portuguese nationality at birth for children of legal immigrants who have lived in the country for at least one year.


Keep fit — Fique saudável (pic Público/Sapo)







Nursing

Amidst the height of the country’s fight against Covid-19, the Democratic Union of Nurses in Portugal Sindepor went on a five-day ‘wake-up call’ strike last week, during which only minimum services were provided.

Carlos Ramalho, the president of the syndicate, declared that the walkout was necessary as the nurses are exhausted and their situation in the SNS (National Health Service) deteriorating.

‘We are talking about a process of many years in which the problems have not been resolved by the Government. At this point, the work overload is such that nurses can’t take anymore’.

The union leader further stresses that Portugal is one of the OECD countries with the least number of nurses per 1,000 inhabitants. 

At the same time, the Ordem dos Enfermeiros (Order of Nurses) expressed concern about the recruitment of Portuguese nurses in Europe, revealing that hunting for nurses has intensified from countries such as Spain, the UK and the Netherlands.

These countries are offering lucrative annual contracts for hospitals and nursing homes. From Spain, there have been contracts with offers of 30,000 euros per year, almost double the salary in Portugal. The Netherlands on the other hand is providing – in addition to an ample salary – accommodation, transport and travel.

The OE recalls that ‘although the recognition of the nurses is unanimous, there is no incentive nor decent pay’. Last year more than 4,000 nurses asked the order for a declaration for emigration purposes, a record number that tripled compared to 2017 and represents an increase of 68% compared to 2018.

‘Given the severe situation we are going through – after nine months into the pandemic – it is imperative that the way nurses are hired as well as their working conditions must be improved. There are almost 20,000 nurses abroad and the Government should be concerned with creating means for them to return’, declared OE’s chairwoman Ana Rita Cavaco.

‘We just can’t afford to export more nurses’.

Keep fit                Fique saudável                                 (pic Público/Sapo)









Environment

Climate change in Portugal varies from wildfires to storms

Although the world’s C02 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year – as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy.- the reduced emissions are very unlikely to have a serious impact on the global levels of carbon dioxide.


The target laid out in the Paris agreement would require at least similar reductions every year in the decades to come.

Climate change in Portugal varies from wildfires to storms. On September 13 the country suffered the largest forest fire of the year whilst only one week later sub-cyclone Alpha ravaged the central districts of Leiria and Coimbra.


Global warming is going to bring more tropical cyclones moving north and eastward from the Atlantic ocean.

Three years ago strong winds and heat from passing hurricane Ophelia fanned more than 150 wildfires, claiming the lives of at least 45 citizens. And last year the Azores were hit by Lorenzo, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Central North Atlantic, with winds blowing at 260 km/hour.

Although the pandemic decreases air pollution and waste production – the last mainly as a result of the collapsing tourism industry –these changes are most likely temporarily, as the rapid rebound in air pollution and coal consumption to pre-Covid levels across China shows.

Moreover, the increase of plastic disposables during the pandemic– like masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and take-away packages – poses a serious threat to the environment, in particular to the oceans. Every year 230,000 tons of plastic are dumped into the Mediterranean. Various environmental NGO’s, therefore, argue not to use disposable but reusable masks by those who don’t belong to a risk group.

Besides the damage done by the pandemic to the environment, long-term exposure to atmospheric pollution –already linked to heart/lung damage and premature death – may have increased Portugal’s risk of death from Covid by 11%, putting new emphasis on why the disease appears to be most prevalent in metropolitan areas.

Keep distance      Stay healthy                  (pic público/sapo)










Masks

With more than 3000 new Covid cases and 31 deaths registered in 24 hours – according to figures by Portugal’s DGS (Directorate General of Health) – Parliament decided last Friday that face masks are going to be mandatory in public spaces across the country.

The measure – valid for the next 70 days – obliges residents over the age of 10 to wear masks outside whenever physical distancing of 2 metres can’t be guaranteed. A face shield will not do.
Rule-breaking citizens risk a fine of between 100 and 500 euros.

The decision follows an earlier set of rules – in force since October 15 – in which the entire country returned to a State of Calamity including the prohibition of gatherings in public of more than five people, family events (weddings and baptisms) limited to a maximum of 50 people and fines up to 10,000 euros for anyone breaking rules over physical distancing or numbers of people allowed to meet.

Although with a population of 10 million people, Portugal recorded a comparatively low number of cases (116,000) and deaths (2,300) so far, it is – like most European nations – forced to increase restrictions in order to tackle the second wave of COVID-19. Out of 1455 people in hospital, 221 are currently in Intensive care.

People all over Europe are facing tougher restrictions. Big cities in Italy and France encounter curfews, Greek citizens have been told to stay off the street between 12.30 pm and 05.00 am and Spain declared the State of Emergency as from today.
The Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain are currently the worst-hit nations, according to recent figures by Johns Hopkins University.

Brussels – in need of a new approach to ‘free circulation’ of their citizens – proposed last week a ‘set of criteria’ comprising the number of new infections per 100.000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days, and the number/percentage of positive tests performed per 100.000 inhabitants in the last 7 days.

These criteria can be used to define red, yellow and green zones as well as consider restrictions on free circulation. They will also serve to determine areas where people have to stay in quarantine.

The day after Parliament decided on mandatory masks in public places, hundreds of people in Lisbon protested against the measures. They shouted ‘freedom’ and carried banners saying ‘masks create distrust’ and ‘fear is not a vaccine’.


Stay safe             Fique saudável                       (pic Público/Sapo/Observ)





Snacks

The only food the Portuguese are more crazy about than fish is soup.

Caldo verde is a thick soup made with thinly-cut strips of Galician kale and potato, and always a lump or two of chorizo floating in it. It is thought to originate from the northern Minho province in the 15th century and goes very well with Broa.

Broa de milho is cornbread consisting of plain flour, cornmeal, yeast, water, milk, sugar, salt, and butter. It is often used for dipping in soups and stews. In the past, broa de milho was considered a poor man’s food but is enjoyed today by all tiers of society.

Açorda is bread soup in numerous varieties. Most have a smooth and thick consistency and contain olive oil, salt, herbs (coriander), garlic, eggs, and boiling water poured over diced bread.


Bolinhos de bacalhau or pasteis de bacalhau are little deep-fried patties of salt-dried cod and potatoes.

Bifana is a sandwich that consists of pork steaks simmered in a garlic sauce and then placed inside a bun. It is suggested to have appeared first in Vendas Novas. When beef instead of pork is used, the snack is called prego. Both are such fast-food classics that Mc Donald’s produces a McBifana and a McPrego for the  Portuguese market.

Sardinhas assadas are synonymous with Portugal. First, the sardines are coated with salt before grilled over a hot charcoal grill. You usually eat them on a simple slice of bread with soaks up the delicious juices. There is even a sardine festival in Lisbon on the 13th of June when the city is filled with smoke.

Caracóis are seasonal and available from May until September. When you see signs saying ‘Há caracóis’ at cafés and restaurants you’ll know they are around. 

Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato is a simple dish named after the 19th-century poet Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato. It combines clams and a flavourful sauce based on olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, white wine, and fresh coriander.

Queijo da Serra is the country’s most famous cheese from the mountainous region of Serra da Estrella. The primary ingredient of this soft and salty cheese is unpasteurized ewes milk to which thistle is added to coagulate the milk.

Pasteis de nata is the famous egg custard tart, originally made around the 18th century by Catholic monks and nuns in Santa Maria de Bélem in Lisbon. The tart was made from leftover egg yolks, used in the starching of nuns’ habits. The owners of the shop Pasteis de Belém – a former sugar refinery next to the Jerónimus Monastery – are said to have acquired the recipe – they still use – in 1837 directly from the monks.

Stay Healthy                         Fique saudavél   (pic tasteatlas/expatica)





Metro

The controversial plan to extend the Lisbon metro by constructing a circle line – joining the existing yellow and green ones – has finally moved forward thanks to a solid financial injection of € 83 million from the EU’s Cohesion Fund. Works – which will link Rato to Cais Sodré and São Sebastião to Campo Ourique, including new stations in Estrela and Santos – should move forward in phases up to 2024.


The Estrela station will be built at the top of the Calçada da Estrela, 54 meters below ground level and be twelve meters lower than the Ameixoeira station, currently Lisbon’s deepest metro station.


According to Brussels, the improved public transport service will not only reduce CO2 emissions with around 5000 tons per year but also contribute to the creation of employment, much needed at the time of the pandemic.

The € 215 million project nearly didn’t make it when Parliament supported at the beginning of this year a proposal by PAN (People, Animals and Nature party) to suspend the plan of the socialist government, as it wasn’t wide-ranging enough. PAN – backed by almost all opposition parties – wanted a much larger expansion, including outlying areas in the Lisbon Metropolis, like Loures, Sintra and Cascais.

Construction of the first leg of the Portuguese metro started 65 years ago, in August 1955. The initial line consisted of 6,5 kilometres, had 11 stations and two-carriage trains.
the Lisbon Metro currently consists of four lines and 56 stations.

Furthermore, this summer, the municipalities of Lisbon, Loures and Oeiras have jointly decided to construct a light rail along the Tagus river, linking Alcântera to Cruz Quebrada and Santa Apolónia to Sacavém. The estimated investment totals € 490 million. The new line will have a total length of 25 kilometres and will be connected to the existing riverside, tram and train lines to the west and the north of the capital.

Extension of the public transport facilities not only benefits the environment by reducing air pollution from cars but is supposed to lead as well to a reduction of the urban mortality rate in pedestrians. A study by the ETSC (European Transport Safety Council) showed that between 2010  and 2019 nearly 1400 pedestrians died on Portuguese streets, placing the country in an unwanted fifth place among 28 European states.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic público/sapo)






Rules

Six months after the first Covid case was detected in Portugal, a new set of coronavirus related rules is underway as from September 15, when the entire country will most likely return to a State of Calamity, leaving the lighter State of Alert, in place since June.

The decision is taken because of the significant changes this month with the holidays over and an expected increase in the use of public transport, inevitable with people returning to work and children to school.

Until now, only in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley the State of Calamity prevailed with tighter rules than throughout the rest of the country in terms of how many people can meet in a group and business opening times.

Referring to the arrival of colder weather in the autumn, the Minister for the Presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva declared: ‘What we have been seeing is an increase in the number of corona cases, both in our country and in the countries around us. The government cannot remain indifferent to this increase.’

In practise this means continuation of the general measures of the Alert State – physical distance, hand hygiene and the use of masks in public services and transport.
In addition the rules of the State of Calamity are going to apply across the entire country, such as closing at 8 pm of commercial establishments (supermarkets at 10 pm), fuel supply, clinics, offices, pharmacies and funeral homes; prohibition on selling alcohol at service stations and gatherings limited to 10 people.

Immigrants, including asylum seekers, with pending applications at the borders agency SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) and whose legislation has been held up by the pandemic, will see their rights extended until March 2021, granting them full access to the National Health Service, welfare benefits and rental contracts.

In the meantime, the Banco Alimentar contra Fome (Food Bank) – the NGO that feeds people who cannot feed themselves – reported that the pandemic has seen demand on its services increase with at least 60,000 (from 380,000 to 440,000).

Stay healthy                 Fique saudável                        (pic público/economist)