“If we have a hundred more cases in Faro or Portimão we will have to close the Algarve”, says Southern Medical Association head
Alongside the Alentejo, the Algarve has been one of the regions in the country with fewer cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
However, the southernmost region of the country is also one of the most sought after by tourists in the summer and the fear of new focal points of contagion was discussed this week by the president of the Southern Medical Association, in an interview with the Diário de Notícias newspaper. He underlined the chronic shortage of doctors in the region, which is expected to be aggravated this year in the current pandemic situation.
Alexandre Valentim Lourenço stated there is an urgent need for human reinforcements, and that difficult political decisions for the economy may be coming soon. About the Lagos outbreak, due to an illegal party, the official expressed his concern, saying that “if this is difficult in some neighbourhoods of Lisbon and in a young population, transposing it to the Algarve may be more worrying”, since the visiting population frequent night spaces and beaches just as frequently. If there are more outbreaks such as Lagos or Portimão, more drastic measures must be taken and “doors should be closed” to tourists, he argues.
“Moreover, the lack of obstetricians, paediatricians, and anaesthesiologists in the region has not yet been resolved and last year’s difficulties will be the same as this year’s”, he said. Alexandre Valentim Lourenço also revealed in the interview that “we spent a lot of money on ventilators, but these ventilators will not work alone. 500 ventilators were put in the Algarve, but if there are no doctors, they will not work”.
The fear of the opening of the borders with Spain was also recognized by the president of the Southern Medical Association, who admits that “the opening on the border of the Algarve with Spain does not allow testing to be done, but it is not only tourism coming from the foreigners from areas with outbreaks that are worrying. Right now, there are outbreaks in Lisbon with a number of cases that are worrying at European level. And the people who come from the capital how are they tracked?”
“My concern with the opening of a tourist area is related to the fact that public health structures are not able to deal with the challenges to contain the infection. We know that, in cases of COVID-19, the possibility of tracking the first cases and after following up all contacts with a quarantine policy is essential so that the infection does not spread beyond these small outbreaks. What we are seeing, for example, in Lisbon are multiple small outbreaks, which concern us due to the inability of the structure to do what it should with regard to public health (monitor all contacts and have an effective quarantine policy)” he defends.
“People who go to the Algarve on summer holidays have social behaviours that are completely opposite to those of confinement. The Algarve is known for its beaches but also for its bars, nightclubs, intense social contact of people” he argued.
Asked whether he is concerned about the reopening of borders and the arrival of tourists, he brought up the example of Madeira, which also lives largely off of tourism and has had no new cases recently, but is a different kettle of fish in his view. “Neither does the Azores, although Madeira lives even more from tourism. Madeira and the Azores managed to do what they did because they are islands and are able to track all entries. Analysis made prior to the plane’s arrival, rapid tests and short quarantine periods are possible in Madeira and the Azores.”