President Marcelo declares State of Emergency, new rules to come over next few days
Yesterday the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, convened his council of advisors via videoconference, and last night, he announced that Portugal has officially entered a State of Emergency. He and other officials, including Prime Minister António Costa, are using strong language, declaring a “war” against the virus and asking all residents to contribute.
At this point, it is unclear precisely what that means. But while “stay at home and cancel everything” has been strong advice for a couple of weeks, now the government have the power to enact new restrictions (such as forcing non-essential businesses to close) and new requirements (such as ensuring that the food supply chain continues to work) to make it so.
This means that, to put it in simple terms, the state of emergency doesn’t consist of any specific measures, it simply opens up a new legislative arsenal for the government to fight the spread of COVID-19.
In Marcelo’s address to the public, he emphasized the need to put public health above the economy and tourism. He also cautioned that this State of Emergency will not be a miracle that fixes everything in one minute, day or month. Portugal, it seems, is in for the long haul.
He stressed that although this State of Emergency—which is in effect until April 3rd—allows the government to enact rules that would in normal times be unconstitutional without getting his express permission for each one, it is not an interruption of democracy. Extreme times call for extreme measures.
To calm a country in which many older citizens remember life under a strict dictatorship, he listed five reasons for the declaration: Anticipation, Prevention, Certainty, Restraint, and Flexibility.
In other words, what happened this Wednesday night was a political statement. It was an announcement that this will be a time when the democracy will be using exceptional measures that it has written for times of exceptional seriousness. He said it is not an interruption of democracy but, rather, democracy trying to stop the irreparable interruption of people’s lives.
Marcelo finished by saying that in this war, as in all others, there is a real enemy: invisible, insidious and therefore dangerous. This enemy is not the virus. It is discouragement, tiredness and fatigue. We have to fight it every day with resistance, solidarity and courage.
The execution of the State of Emergency is now in the hands of the council of ministers. Their first meeting is today. Nothing radical has changed yet, but we expect some serious measures to come in the coming days, day by day.
Some of the expectations from different sectors of society are:
- Restriction of movement (it looks like essential solo trips to the market or pharmacy, dog walking, and exercise will be allowed)
- Suspension of non-essential commerce
- Closure of restaurants (except for delivery and possibly takeaway)
- Ban on beach activities that involve groups of people
- Measures for economic relief and support for businesses affected by the outbreak
- Readiness of national defence support hospitals and enforce regulations
To keep up to date with the exceptional measures, keep checking covid19estamoson.gov.pt. (Be warned that so far it’s only in Portuguese.) The site also includes emergency contacts, news updates and other useful information.