Recently Portugal has been leading the world by a large
margin in the rates of new coronavirus infections and deaths from Covid-19.
How was this achieved? The highly respected Forbes magazine
said “Through a combination of good luck, early and decisive government action
and the responsible behaviour of the Portuguese people, Portugal was
spared the worst of the coronavirus’s devastation. Although the talk of
a “Portuguese miracle” was somewhat overblown, the country never had
the horrific case numbers and overwhelmed hospitals that its neighbours in
southern Europe did. “
A Portuguese miracle
In April the President of the Republic praised political
leaders and in particular the Government for having “listened to the experts”
and “acted in unity” in the fight against Covid-19, saying that foreigners
speak of a “Portuguese miracle”. He the added “it is good that they think so”,
but “no, it is not a miracle, it is the result of a lot of sacrifice”.
“If this is a miracle, as others out there say, then we, the
Portuguese people, have been a living miracle for almost nine
centuries. If this is a miracle, the miracle is called Portugal”, he
“It is the result of, in these crucial stages, those with
political responsibilities having listened to the experts, having acted in
unity and having made this fight the fight of their lives, and, from the
outset, the Prime Minister and, with him, the Government, as it is fair to recognise”,
A recent report found that a majority of patients in
ambulances outside one of the main hospitals were there out of
an abundance of caution, rather than a dire health emergency. Triage
systems were set up to quickly to decide which patients needed urgent
attention. The oxygen scare was more of a technical problem than an outright
shortage and was quickly resolved. A clever volunteer initiative,
called Cama Solidária ("solidarity bed") allowed owners of camper
vans to make their vehicles available to handle the overflow, or for exhausted
healthcare workers who need a quiet place to get some rest.
No lockdown protests
There were no widespread anti-lockdown protests, as seen in
the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. Everyone seemed to agree on masks (even
if they didn’t agree about the type of masks) and about the hard times ahead
and the necessary sacrifices.
“The Portuguese people understood very clearly that if we
want to survive this, we would have to do even more than the others in crushing
the curve, in prolonging and pushing forward the number of new cases,” an
official told POLITICO. “The country has shown tremendous solidarity.”
Portugal shut down schools when there were just 245 cases in
the country. Spain already had 2,140 infections when most regional governments
closed schools. Italy had over 2,500 cases before students were sent home.
Madrid also allowed over 100,000 people to attend an
International Women's Day march, while Lisbon banned all public gatherings at
an early stage in the epidemic’s evolution.
The state of emergency putting Portugal on lockdown was
declared when the country had 448 cases. Spain took similar
measures three days earlier with almost 10 times more cases; Italy had
over 9,000 people infected by the time its nationwide lockdown.
Early lockdown helped
“The early implementation of measures can help explain the
slower pace of the infection,” said Inês Fronteira, lecturer on international
public health at Lisbon’s Universidade NOVA.
“The lockdowns in Spain and Italy were implemented at more
or less the same point; we did it in a phase where there were still not so many
cases, which was more effective in reducing the transmission.”
According to most media reports, Portugal is one of the few
success stories in Europe on controlling the spread of the virus, and the
country had a very low caseload, especially when compared with its neighbouring
countries – surprising, considering that Portugal had lowest number of intensive
care beds in Europe.
It’s also important to say that the vaccination programme
was implemented and went into action very quickly. I am sure there will be one
or two people who had a problem, but vaccination centres sprang up everywhere,
and were run very efficiently. Over 87 percent of the population were
How did Portugal do
How has Portugal's response been different and how has it
managed to avoid the high death tolls of neighbouring countries?
Filipe Froes, a doctor from the national Covid-19 task
force, says Portugal had time to prepare for the outbreak, with the virus
reaching the country later than in Spain and Italy. "We had precious days
to implement a strategy that allowed us to prepare our hospital
"We also introduced the state of emergency and
confinement measures earlier than these countries, so those measures had more
This information is not personal opinion, though I agree
with the opinions of the experts. It has been gathered from leading media and
official sources. Portugal has been praised worldwide, and that’s a great
compliment to both medical services and the government.
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.