Our plans to post about the trip to Tomar and our time in Lisbon at the Embassy have been set aside by the pandemic caused by Covid-19. Like other European countries, Portugal is on the front lines. Rather than discussing the disease, we'd like to talk about how our new home is handling this crisis.
First thing -- there is very little panic here and no hoarding that we can see. The Portuguese, at least to us, are a very stoic people who have dealt with some really ugly events in their history (the decades-long Salazar dictatorship for one). Most everyone is complying with the health authorities' request for Social Distancing though people are meeting at restaurants and coffee shops. Still, the streets are really quite empty and it's kind of eerie.
We are under a State of Emergency which grants the government more powers than usual. We are allowed to go out of our homes for specific reasons (groceries, pharmacy, hospital, medical appointments, helping third parties, walking a dog, job requirements and such). The State of Emergency will need to be re-upped in 15 days and has to be approved by the legislators to remain in effect. The Portuguese are very touchy about any erosion of individual rights courtesy of those decades under a dictator, so they will be watching their government closely. One key thing -- strikes are not allowed during this time so goods can continue to flow into the country.
When you go to the grocery store there is now a queue outside the front door where you wait, six feet or more apart, until you are allowed to enter the premises. The other day there was a young man at the door of one of our local stores, wearing a mask and gloves, who treated our hands with sanitizer before we entered. At the checkout line we kept the proper spacing (in fact there were notices on the floor to remind us to do so) and we waited until the person in front of us was completely out of the way before we moved forward. In some stores there is tape on the floor indicating the proper spacing as you're waiting in line. There really wasn't a shortage of food other than packaged meat, which seemed to be the norm even before the recent virus appeared. This was a smaller store so the bigger ones might still have stock.
Harold's trip to the pharmacy was much the same -- two customers are allowed inside the shop at a time and the pharmacists are now behind Plexiglass shields. We had concerns that my asthma inhaler was outdated and so he bought a replacement in case I need it down the line. I also used a corticosteroid inhaler in the States but hadn't tried to find one here -- the pharmacist couldn't supply that actual brand (Breo) but he came up with a substitute. Neither of these required a prescription.
Refrigerators and freezers are Barbie-sized compared to the U.S. as Europeans generally shop 2-3x per week to take advantage of the fresh bread and produce. So stocking up meat in the freezer has required some forethought and a lot of rearranging to get as much inside the tiny drawers as possible. Luckily European eggs don't require refrigeration so ours are sitting in a bowl on the counter saving refrigerator space. Also, our milk is packaged in such a way it can be stored in the pantry, as well as our orange juice.
Harold and I are hermits by nature so the #FicaEmCasa (Stay Home) requirements are not a problem for us. Friends of ours have been playing board games with the teens and I've made a mental note to add a couple of those to our household once the virus has subsided. From everything I'm reading, that will take a number of months and there may be re-occuring times when we'll have to shelter in place under there is enough herd immunity to this new threat.
Meanwhile Ágora - Cultura e Desporta on Facebook has been sharing videos that sum up the city's spirit and determination. These are wonderful!
And for the latest information on how the virus is affecting Portugal visit DGS.pt (the national health service). On the right side of their page is a link to another page specifically about the virus. Further down that second page is a graphic that shows you exactly how many cases have been verified in the country, how many supposed cases, deaths, demographic distribution, etc. Just click on Mais Detalhes and it'll pull up the graph. It's updated every day around noon and the DGS is holding daily press conferences.
Unlike in the U.S. where the White House is driving most of the dissemination of information regarding the virus, here the health service takes the lead. If the Portuguese president or prime minister hold a press conference the medical experts are there to take questions and give updates. Frankly this approach makes us feel a lot better about how things are playing out over here.
We'll do updates on the situation while we Stay Home and catch up on all the stuff we've been putting off. Keep well, keep safe and carry on!
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.