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Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Good in a crisis

My relationship with my native Portugal is not an easy one. We share many happy memories but the truth is that we have been on a break for quite some time – nearly a decade, in fact. Since my departure I’ve watched Portugal thrive from afar: it re-emerged from a financial crisis with its head held high, was rediscovered by tourists and businesses from all over the world and even triumphed at sports (football’s European Championship in 2016) and pop culture (the Eurovision Song Contest in 2017). And its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been another memorable moment.Portugal’s government suspended events and closed schools, non-essential shops and land borders before any virus-related deaths were registered (the only country in Europe to do so other than the Czech Republic) and many employers adopted homeworking before official rules were put in place. The prime minister, António Costa (pictured), meanwhile, has been outspoken on the need for European solidarity and unity. But perhaps the most telling sign of how Portugal’s response has been different to that of other countries is the decision to grant all migrants and asylum seekers rights of citizenship for the duration of the pandemic. The move allows them full access to healthcare and welfare. Not only is this the humane thing to do but, according to the Portuguese Council of Ministers, it’s a way of avoiding a public-health emergency.Last Thursday, Costa extended the state of emergency for 15 days and announced new measures: all of the country’s airports will be closed throughout Easter and people should not leave their own boroughs other than for essential work or medical emergencies. These are tough times but, in a country that was under a dictatorship for decades and only became a democracy in 1974, I’m proud of the leadership on display.

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