In front of the Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon, the largest in Portugal, the lines for ambulances are getting longer.
In front of the Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon, the most important in Portugal, the ambulance queues are getting longer. (LOUISE BODET / RADIO FRANCE)

The atmosphere is gloomy in deserted Lisbon, where the sirens of ambulances are ringing, piling up at the doors of Santa Maria Hospital, the largest in Portugal. The country is accumulating sad records: spared in the spring by the coronavirus pandemic, the country has been hard hit since Christmas. Thursday, January 28, there were 303 dead in 24 hours. Nationwide, it is huge: it is as if, in France, there were 2,000 deaths per day, a figure never reached, even in the spring. The number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants also beats all world records and Lisbon hospitals are overwhelmed.

The authorities belatedly organized a re-containment, two weeks ago, and closed the schools a week ago. The promise of vaccines, which is late, was too good, while the English, Brazilian, South African variants are gaining ground.


At the Santa Maria Hospital, it was impossible to interview the carers, who were too busy: the press was repressed. “We currently have 55 intensive care beds, explains Pedro Marquès, communication manager at the hospital. And we’re about to open four more. We have 270 infirmary beds, which means that in just two weeks, we have doubled our capacity. After a year of the pandemic, the fatigue is immense, but it is now the hardest. ” Manuel, a nurse in another hospital in the city, is exhausted. “We’re scared, but it’s been like this every day, for almost a year, he said. You never stop: I have been working for 20 days in a row. We wear a completely airtight suit for hours, days, weeks, months. It is a great stress, an immense fatigue. We are the only ones facing the Covid eye to eye. “

My anger is immense because I feel cheated, betrayed, despised .. I have been tested twice in eight months! This is the truth. Not that of TV or politicians.

Manual, nurse


to franceinfo

We hear this nurse harshly questioning policies. The latter concede that “things are going very badly”, by the admission of Prime Minister Antonio Costa. “We are seeing an exponential growth in new cases, he emphasizes, which puts gigantic pressure on the health care system with an absolutely dramatic death toll. “

Awareness is late, regrets Ricardo Mexia, president of the National Association of Doctors in the Public Sector. “We decided at Christmas to lift the restrictions, then we should have rebalanced because we knew that the cases were going to increase. We should have made this decision earlier, prevent and not react after the fact. Today we pay for it. the price.”


Ricardo Mexia, President of the National Association of Doctors in the Public Sector.
Ricardo Mexia, President of the National Association of Doctors in the Public Sector. (LOUISE BODET / RADIO FRANCE)

Taxis, restaurants, hotels, Airbnb accommodation: there are 200,000 direct jobs linked to tourism in the region, or 20% of GDP. Surviving without the tourist windfall for many more months is not a problem for Chakall, a very media chef who receives guests at home. Its eight restaurants are indeed closed, but thanks to short-time working, none of its 120 employees have been made redundant. “This is really the most important to me. I’m lucky ! he said. My restaurant is not in a tourist spot, so I don’t really suffer from the absence of tourists … I’m in Portugal so I work for the Portuguese! “


But it is thanks to tourism that Portugal has taken off again after the 2008 crisis. A renaissance brutally hampered by a pandemic which is revealing. “Researchers have been saying this for two or three years now: Lisbon and its region are too focused on tourism, indicates Gonçalo Antunes, teacher researcher in urban geography. Today, many people, including politicians, say that Covid is an opportunity to change strategy. But the choices are made: people have started businesses. Converting all this, which has contributed to the wealth of the country, is possible but it is difficult … “ And while waiting for a very hypothetical reconversion, the Portuguese economy has to face closing borders: the government announces for Sunday the return of controls on the roads to Spain and all trips abroad will be strictly limited.