The wind has been blowing for the past five days and my bedroom window has been rattling in its casing the entire time. There is a mass of air coming from the deserts of North Africa hitting the entire continent of Europe, causing poor air quality and a haze that has hung over the Algarve, probably everywhere else, too, muting the sun.
The air affects the elderly and those with respiratory problems. I haven’t been out and about enough to be affected; I’ve spent the past few days with my head down, trying to get a book finished up by my self-imposed deadline of today. Which I will meet. (Pats self on back.)
Along with the pollutant particulates, the air mass brings warmth. Daily temperatures are in the mid to high 60s and the nights are not as cool as they were. My big success is that I have gone two days without putting on my warm, fuzzy socks. I am no longer bundled up like the little match girl. It’s not quite swimming weather, at least for me. I haven’t been in cold ocean water since my teens and I mean to keep it that way. I’ve been very spoiled by the warm waters of Hawaii, Sea of Cortez, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. I am looking at the other side of the Atlantic I grew up with and I will not be fooled by the happy cries of “Come on in. It’s BRACING!” I do not need to be braced, thank you.
Next week we enter a second level of re-opening and already you can feel a different energy—more restaurants are open for takeaway, more people are on the streets. The government has put out a staged timeline for opening up businesses and other activities. Next week stores that open directly to the street will open. Middle school kids will be going back to class. (The youngest started back in mid-March.) Restaurants and cafes can open their outdoor seating. Museums, monuments, and palaces will be open again. Best of all, we will be able to travel to nearby towns. I can finally start exploring my new country!
Albufeira is sprucing up for the coming tourist season. Tourism accounts for almost 20% of Portugal’s GDP and the Pandemic has hit the country—like every other country—right in the pocketbook. Because I am looking for a long-term rental, I am seeing the economic hit from the landlords’ standpoint. Portugal makes its tourism money from April or May through September. My €750 a month Airbnb will skyrocket to €750 a week. That’s not a surprise to me but it makes finding a long-term rental starting in June a little tougher.
What has been, for me, a sleepy town, will become a hotbed of tourists and partying. The streets will be filled with cars, the shops and restaurants crowded with visitors, all bringing tourist dollars. Hopefully they will not be bringing Covid variants. While the government has planned to re-open the country by the end of May, we still don’t know what restrictions will be put in place for people visiting. Will they need to be vaccinated or is a negative Covid test enough? Will they make plans to come only to have to cancel them?
It depends on a number of factors. The vaccination program in Portugal has not rolled out as quickly as the government would like due to supply problems. Early on they ordered a sufficient amount of vaccine doses (and a little extra) and are vaccinating as quickly as they can. About 15% of the country has had their first jab and 8% are fully vaccinated. It is taking just over two months (67 days) to completely vaccinate each 10% of the population. The country is vaccinating about a million people a month (first dose) and it looks like it will take until the end of the year for the country to be fully vaccinated. (Reuters has a comprehensive Covid-19 tracker if you’re a stats geek.)
I am sure the people in charge are looking at these figures and weighing the risks of opening up the country to tourism. I am equally sure that should the virus start to spike again, they will lock this country down in the blink of an eye. When it comes to conquering this virus, the government of Portugal does not play. They mean business, something I appreciate very much.
Making it through the storm
But I worry about the people here who need to make a living. (I worry about the people everywhere who need to make a living.) Tourism was crippled last year and it may well be crippled again this year. While we can say “things will be better next year,” a year is an eternity when you have mouths to feed and rent to pay.
We are living in extraordinary times. I am fortunate to have a business that is not geographically limited and doesn’t depend on face-to-face interaction. I understand that most people are not this fortunate. Many people had to “pivot” in the last year, frantically figuring out what they could do to earn money. Many were forced to put their lives on the line every day in order to keep basic services up and running. There are quiet heroes on every corner.
Hard winds have been blowing for a year. They will continue to blow in many places long after the most privileged, the most fortunate among us are safe. Countries and people make it through hard times by pulling together. Division is a luxury item the world cannot afford. How many times will we need to learn that?