Statement by Jorge Pires, member of the Political Committee of the Central Committee

The COVID-19 epidemic outbreak - Short-term and medium-term repercussions, and the responses and policies that must be adopted to address them

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1. The COVID-19 epidemic outbreak confronting the country and the world naturally requires, as a priority, an appropriate set of prevention procedures, including health measures that must be strengthened. Public health services play a crucial role, accompanied at the same time by essential measures to enable the clinical response. The National Health Service must be strengthened, at all levels.

Highlighting the prudent response of the population, which has contributed to the prevention and containment of the epidemic outbreak, the PCP denounces and rejects the instrumentalization of a situation that raises understandable concerns for all, in order to justify and impose economic and social regressions, and attacks on rights, based on alarmist logic which is fed to heighten a climate of fear among the population.

2. The significant, although expected, growth in the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the past few days requires effective measures. There is a need to strengthen the capacity of management and coordination, and the teams to fight the epidemic outbreak, within the framework of a strategy in which priority must be given to forecasting and prevention, without neglecting the response. As the PCP underlined, and reiterates, the situation in several European countries reveals, not just the epidemiological potential of COVID-19, but also the severly insufficient means of clinical response that exist to confront the medical demands of acute cases. This insufficiency must be overcome and eliminated. Whatever is necessary must be invested and mobilized in order to ensure everyone’s right to healthcare, by ensuring a response capacity and restoring the necessary tranquility and safety.

The scale and diversity of measures demanded by the situation requires planning, investment and implementation. They also demand the defense of the national interest in the face of economic interests that seek to interfere and condition decisions so as to serve their interests, putting the goal of profits above the priority that must be given to ensuring the life, safety and health of the population.

The PCP stresses the need to ensure a strategic reserve of medicines, without yielding to speculative pressure from the economic groups that produce and distribute them.

The lack of protective equipment and material in the NHS units and the speculative prices that are already being felt in pharmacies, with regard to means of protection and disinfection, reveal a management of stocks that is based on business concerns, at the expense of the Portuguese people’s needs. Protective equipment must also be provided to the security forces and those involved in civil protection, as well as to all other workers who, due to their activity and functions, have extensive contact with the public.

3. The latest developments and health consequences, namely the significant growth in the number of confirmed cases of COVID -19 infections, bring to the forefront the urgency of a decisive strengthening of the NHS, providing all financial means necessary for the hiring of professionals and the acquisition of medical and other fundamental equipment, so that it may respond, not only to the epidemic outbreak, but to all other needs for medical care, namely in the Primary Health Care units.

The foreseeable evolution of the situation makes it a priority, within the framework of strengthening the NHS, to increase the number of beds for internment and intensive care and to reopen those beds that had been closed over the years, two thousand of which between the years 2010 and 2015.

The PCP stresses and values the commitment of the over 130,000 professionals who work in the NHS and all others who are involved in helping the Portuguese, namely the INEM [National Institute for Medical Emergencies] professionals, firefighters and agents of the security forces, and underscores the readiness shown by more than 1,700 retired doctors, as well as that of other professionals, to return to effective work in healthcare units. The existing capacity, which is still insufficient, requires more recruitment of doctors, nurses, diagnostic technicians and medical assistants.

The PCP stresses the importance of implementing a comprehensive plan of measures of prevention and containment which, in addition to limiting the intensity of circulation, the use of shopping malls or public facilities and spaces, should also encompass health and hygiene actions in public transport, in the most frequented areas, but also in the workplaces.

The possibility of resorting to the declaration of a state of emergency cannot be excluded at the outset, but must depend on a justified existence of an exceptional framework that would justify it. There are a number of prevention and containment measures that, under the terms of the Law, can and should be adopted gradually in the face of developments and of a worsening epidemic outbreak. If taken, the compliance with such measures must be ascertained. Should an exceptional framework of restrictions and measures to ensure compliance arise, the declaration of a state of emergency must identify them in concrete terms and only insofar as they prove to be proportionate and necessary.

Noting that the measures to prevent and contain the epidemic outbreak have been widely followed, the PCP believes that the existing possibilities of new measures under the terms of the law, for situations of alertness, contingency and public calamity, should be fully exploited.

The current situation calls for international cooperation at the most varied levels. In this sense, the readiness already affirmed by the Chinese authorities to, within the scope of international cooperation, strengthen the work of prevention and control of the epidemic, should be enhanced in terms of bilateral relations between Portugal and China. This cooperation is all the more necessary given the European Union's stance in the face of the serious situation of several European countries, a stance which is, yet again, marked by inertia, insufficiency and even hypocrisy, exposing the falsity of the propagandized “European solidarity”.

4. The PCP reaffirms the refusal of any economic and social measures based on attacking workers’ wages and rights, namely those which, apart from specific situations that must be considered, are used by economic groups and sectors of the bosses, to reduce workers' wages and income, and Social Security revenues, as is already the case with the indiscriminate and arbitrary use of lay-offs. The PCP reiterates the demand that measures be taken to guarantee workers' full wages or income, and the stability of contractual bonds, including of those in independent work regimes, as a result of either decisions by the health authorities, or assistance to family members. In this regard, the government must remedy the absence of protection resulting from the exclusion of school holidays from family accompaniment.

In a scenario marked by a very significant reduction in economic activity, the reduction in wages and income will further deepen, through the loss of purchasing power, a contraction of the domestic market, inducing a recessive dynamic that needs to be prevented. What is needed is to defend and value the workers’ rights and wages, and not to feed recessionary conditions that in the first instance will hit the workers and the people, by attempting to destroy rights and wages. What is needed is to ensure public investment and support for national production as strategic elements in the short and medium term. What is necessary, taking into account real economic impacts, is to guarantee lines of financing and support that can respond in a regulated and controlled manner, in particular to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises and small and medium farmers, opposing the generalization of indiscriminate support which will misuse public resources at the service of accumulating profits.

5. The COVID-19 outbreak comes at a time when significant signs of deterioration in the global economic situation were mounting, with the risk of recession in some of the main capitalist powers.

Not underestimating the economic impact of the current epidemic outbreak, the PCP warns of attempts to exploit the situation in order to deepen neoliberal policies, at the service of monopoly capital, to attack rights and to concentrate and accumulate capital, as well as to promote reactionary and anti-democratic views aimed at attacking fundamental freedoms, rights and guarantees, and democracy.

The recent events expose the contradictions, fragility and volatility of the world economic situation and the inability of capitalist States to provide quick, large-scale, responses and the organizational requirements for a situation such as this, thus confirming the fallacy of neoliberal theories of “less State, better State”.

6. The current epidemiological context highlights the high degree of dependence of the national economy and its structural deficits and weaknesses in the face of external changes, which are inseparable from the right-wing policy.

The political response that the country's situation demands, both to respond to structural problems and to confront the epidemic outbreak and its repercussions, includes as essential elements:

- Safeguarding wages, income and workers' rights, protecting jobs - in the public and private sector - and a real rise of wages with a general increase for all workers, setting the National Minimum Wage at 850 euros, thus contributing to increase purchasing power and to the recovery of the domestic market;

- Promoting public investment, with the completion of investments (including those financed by Community funds) and the construction of infrastructures; the production of equipment that the country lacks; the execution of necessary public works; streamlining and simplifying processes;

- Measures to accelerate the replacement of imports with national production, namely of foodstuffs, with support for small and medium agriculture and in the pharmaceutical sector (recall the recent adoption of the PCP’s proposal to create a National Medications Laboratory);

- Fighting against all kinds of speculation, namely involving the prices in the basket of essential goods, as well as the regulation and imposition of maximum prices for essential goods and services;

- State support for micro, small and medium-sized companies, including with the announced payment of State debts to suppliers, with priority given to MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Companies];

- Defending national public companies that are particularly affected, such as [the national carrier] TAP.

7. The scenario of reduction in foreign demand, the accumulation of recessive factors, resulting from restrictions of mobility and the reduction of assets, from the possible suspension of productive activities as a result of the lack of intermediate products with consequences in various sectors such as textiles, footwear , metalworks, or the situation in sectors such as restaurants, hotels, arts and performances, market vendours and small agricultural producers, all confirm the need for immediate responses that counter the current situation, above and beyond the structural measures that only a patriotic and left-wing policy can ensure.

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