May 6, 2020 by Ellis Dixon
State of Calamity: What We Can and Can’t Do in Portugal
It finally happened. After more than 40 days of quarantine, Portugal is no longer in a state of emergency. Instead, we’re now in a state of calamity. What does that mean, you ask?
Well, the Conselho de Ministros has established new regulations that go into effect in 15-day increments, starting May 4. Should you like reading long legal documents, check them out here in full, but suffice it to say the plan to relax restrictions on civilian movement and business operations is relatively — but not completely — straightforward.
Once the current 15-day period is up, the government will assess the situation and choose to continue to phase two, or put on the brakes. The best offense is a good defense, so here’s what you need to do, can do, and shouldn’t do.
What are the rules for businesses?
Restaurants offering takeaway and fashion shops with a direct door to the outside are allowed to be open as of May 4. In the case of neighborhood commerce, this is only allowed for spaces up to 200 square meters, with exceptions made for bookstores and car dealerships, which are allowed to be open regardless of size. In all cases, there are to be no more than five people per 100 square meters, and the two-meter social-distancing rule between people still applies.
But it’s up to the owner of the business if they want to finally unlock their doors while granted the right to do so. In his interview with Observador, António Sampaio de Mattos, President of the Portuguese Association of Commercial Centers (APCC) says, “Everyone is starting to realize that… they have to start working. For several reasons: first, because the population is in need; next, because some operators already had goods ordered; and lastly, because they need to do business because it’s impossible to continue much longer without financial contributions as they continue to have underlying expenses.”
Shopping centers must stay closed until June 1, but laundromats, appliance shops, tech repair shops, shops that sell Euromilhões tickets, and hair and beauty salons located inside shopping centers can be open as of May 4.
Many are shocked that shopping centers will be opened at this time, as they are considered hotbeds for infection. But Sampaio de Mattos says, “It’s necessary to stress that shopping centers have been open [during the state of emergency]. They have allowed certain essential businesses to work.”
What about the public? What must we do vs. what should we do?
That’s all well and good for business, but what about us — how are we supposed to navigate this new world?
For those who can swing it, teleworking is still recommended as the norm. Also, when you enter a closed space, you have to wear a mask. This is especially important when taking public transport—and what’s more, you may be fined up to 350 euros if you are caught not wearing one, according to Público. As some straphangers can attest, many naked faces were turned away from entering the metro on the first days of phase one.
Even though we CAN have dinner with family and friends again in groups of no more than ten, Rita Sá Machado, head of the Epidemiology and Statistics Division of the Directorate-General for Health (DGS) told Público that it’s probably best to avoid doing so. “We are at a very early stage when we need to maintain our caution and some openness to, if necessary, go back on the measures that have been implemented.”
The relaxed lockdown measures still don’t allow you to visit nursing homes, but you can go visit family members at their homes. Before you go, take into account the risks associated with the visit and act accordingly. If your grandma is at risk and you have to take the metro or bus to visit her, or you’ve been in a public space just before, bring a change of clothes and be prepared to leave your belongings in the hallway to be extra safe. Wash your hands and try not to give her the customary beijinhos. In general, proceed with caution whenever possible.
Driving is still the best way aside from walking to get from A to B, so feel free to go for a drive if you like. Masks are not obligatory inside cars if you’re alone, but if you’re with a friend or in a taxi or Uber, it’s best to wear one just in case. Since May 4, it’s okay to go wherever, even if it’s across the bridge.
Individual exercise is still allowed but different disciplines are being treated differently. For example, if you’re a runner, power-walker, cyclist, or a parkour beast or the like, the world is your oyster — at least parks, the waterfront, or miradouros. But if you surf, even though the new rules say you and your bodyboarding buddies are allowed to practice your sport, you might be turned away to keep beaches from becoming recreation spaces (though certain Atlas correspondents witnessed a small tribe of them in Caparica returning from what looked like a successful bout with mother nature).
Beaches are still closed until further notice and potential visitors are being thwarted by police tape, barricades, and blocked-off parking areas. Playgrounds and other such recreational spaces are also to remain closed until further notice. The police presence, in general, is still pretty thick and will continue to be so to ensure we are abiding by the rules.
“It will depend on all of us,” Sampaio de Mattos says when asked about how he thinks the second phase of the de-escalation plan and the full reopening of businesses on June 1 will go. That’s so true. The precautions that we take now, or the ones we don’t, will set the stage for the next 15 days and so on.
As Prime Minister António Costa said, “as long as there is a COVID, there will be no normal life.” Keep that in mind and let’s do what we can to beat this beast.