The trip was over moments ago. The 'pilot' António Costa had just left the room, when the Minister of Infrastructure, Pedro Nuno Santos, takes over the reins of the cockpit: he picks up the phone that makes internal calls to the deputies in the plenary and calls the PSD vice-president Adão Silva . Eye to eye, but with the phone to their ear, the two spend long minutes arguing and gesturing. The theme? The new airport complementary to Portela, which both of them even agree to be in Montijo, but that a lot of paint has been running. The biweekly debate this Wednesday was another stage to discuss the issue, but the prime minister is adamant: the decision has been made, all that remains is ANAC's technical opinion. The landing, therefore, will be in Montijo.
The flight, however, was turbulent and did not pass by the national emergency: Costa gave details about the contingency plan that is planned for the new coronavirus and guaranteed that there is no need to change the law to force the isolation of infected patients. There will be no temperature control at the airport, nor will there be any need for more beds in hospitals because, in case of virus spread, quarantine is done at home. Nor will the Director-General for Health change, at least not yet, because “generals don't change in the middle of the battle”. In the air, a black cloud: the economy may suffer from the virus and the numbers may need to be revised.
Commander Costa's flight instruments
The debate started with the emergency: Covid-19. And then, Commander Costa – who called for the coordination of the crisis – told the Portuguese that they could trust the health authorities. He assured Rui Rio that, in this matter, he is not “optimistic”, but “factual”. And that he is also not overconfident, promising the humility of asking who knows, giving advice to the president of the PSD: "Follow what your doctor tells you".
On the political side, Costa preferred to show muscle, listing the various measures taken to contain and mitigate the effects of the epidemic: over 100 nurses on the SNS line, three referral hospitals, 4 second-line hospitals and 6 hospitals in a state of readiness, two thousand beds of isolation, eight laboratories qualified to perform coronavirus tests, 2 million masks and a 20% stock of NHS medications reinforced.
António Costa also guaranteed that the Government will “safeguard the labor rights of those who, for reasons of public health, cannot or should not appear in their workplaces, by decision of a public health authority, continuing to receive their wages for both in the public and private sectors ”. After being questioned by Catarina Martins, leader of the Bloco de Esquerda, about the precarious, Costa guaranteed that "independent workers, independent workers are also covered."
Rio expressed his concerns (with control of flights from Italy and lack of material), but after Costa explained to him, he no longer insisted on the subject: “I hope it is as you say. This is not a matter for serious opposition. It is a serious issue. The PSD is available to help with whatever you need ”. The Bloco de Esquerda and PCP demanded that Costa guarantee them that there will be no budgetary restrictions on the hiring of professionals and the purchase of material necessary to fight the virus. Catarina Martins recalled that “more means and more professionals” and “now” are needed, but also the hiring of these means “depends on the authorization of the Minister of Finance”. Now, for the leader of the blockade, the "response to Covid-19 cannot be left behind the delays of Mário Centeno's office." Despite one or another concern, the opposition and the left-wing partners gave Costa a respite in this case.
No need to change what's in the manuals
The Prime Minister also responded to the idea of André Ventura to amend the Constitution, in this case so that the obligatory internment of an infected citizen is allowed. For Costa, there are already legal instruments in the Basic Health Law for “separating people who are not sick (…) in order to avoid the eventual spread of infection or contamination.” The prime minister considers it essential that the measures respect the "principle of proportionality, being adopted gradually and only in case of need", not least because "the worst virus is even the one of social alarm".
Generals don't change generals
Commander Costa also maintains confidence in his team. Chega's deputy, André Ventura, asked Costa how "he can maintain confidence in his Director-General for Health" since she devalued the effects of the coronavirus when the problem arose. In reply, the prime minister maintained his confidence in Graça Freitas, but he also wanted to underline that this is not the right time to make changes: “This is not my director general of health, but the director general of health of the Republic Portuguese. Second, we are at risk, in an epidemic, almost pandemic. In the middle of the battle the generals are not changed, the battles are fought. ” Ventura also retorted that "if things go wrong, the generals have to change."
It is a kind of warning from those who see a black cloud coming in the distance, through the airplane window. There are already several experts who warn of a global financial crisis caused by the coronavirus to which Portugal is far from immune. "We are aware of the negative impact that the current epidemic could also have on the behavior of the world economy, particularly in the tourism sector," said the prime minister.
But he highlighted the support of the Eurogroup, in particular Mário Centeno, to mitigate the negative effects of the virus on the financial health of euro countries. According to Costa, the Eurogroup met by teleconference and is “closely monitoring economic and financial developments, together with the European Commission and the ECB, being available to use all the flexibility of the Stability and Growth Pact in order to have a coordinated response ”. Later, I would even say to Catarina Martins: “I thought I would praise Mário Centeno for showing this availability”.
But the black cloud does not take long to arrive. Costa says that “the new growth estimates for 2020 and the following years” will be released “until April 15th” and that the government will “fail to reflect this risk in the projection to be presented”. The government, which expected to have surplus public accounts this year, is now more cautious. Even so, he always has an optimistic streak: “It is important to remember that the Portuguese economy was the one that best resisted the economic slowdown of 2019, even though it was the economy whose growth accelerated in the final part of the year, which allows us to face the situation current with serenity ”.
Regarding the effects he is already having on the Portuguese economy, António Costa revealed that the minister of the economy has already met with the main business associations to take stock of the situation and concluded that “so far, the economic impact for companies has been moderate or reduced." The drop has only occurred in the “tourism, travel and events” sector and there has been some drop in demand. Even so, to prevent problems in case it is necessary to fasten the seat belts, the Government is in a position to “launch a credit line of treasury support to companies in the initial amount of 100 million euros”.
The discussion is long, it goes beyond 60 years, and over those 60 years, 17 different locations were considered for the new Lisbon airport, complementary to Portela. While the country argues and does not argue, Portela “breaks at the seams”. You can't argue any more, it's time to land. This was the message that António Costa wanted to leave to the parties in the fortnightly debate this Wednesday, where the theme of the construction of the new airport was transversal to almost all parties.
There is no further discussion, Costa refused to “reopen the debate” about the airport's location, recalling that when he arrived at the government in 2015, the decision had already been taken by the previous government and he limited himself to “humility” ”To abide by it. Now, after the environmental impact study is approved, subject to conditions, Costa says that the time for politics is over. Montijo really needs to move forward, and ANAC's technical decision is just missing, which will rule on issues such as the location and the size of the runway, or on safety issues that even include the birds of the Tagus estuary. Only a negative opinion from ANAC from the point of view of safety and technical issues will make construction stop.
In the meantime, it is time to negotiate with the mayors of Moita and Seixal – communist autarchies – who are opposed to the project. That process began this morning, with meetings in São Bento and will continue on the next 16 and 17 March, guaranteed the prime minister. "It is indisputable that there are populations affected by this operation," he said, recognizing that measures must be found to "eliminate or mitigate the negative effects of the solution and enhance the operation from an economic point of view".
Negotiating with the mayors had been precisely what Rui Rio had recommended that Costa do, when the PS accused the PSD of blocking the 'Montijo' solution, which, moreover, had been defended by the PSD / CDS government. Confused? This was what happened again this Wednesday in Parliament, with the socialist deputy Carlos Pereira calling attention to the changes of opinion that the PSD has already had about the location of the airport, remembering that …