The state budget for 2020 was approved as early as January, with an unprecedented budget surplus of 0.2 percent in a country accustomed to having accounts in the "red".
But the pandemic that hit Portugal in March immediately compromised the brief financial relief by directly affecting the main cause of the positive balance: tourism. Just a week after the first two cases of confirmed infection in the country were known, the Algarve had already recorded 60 percent cancellations of hotel bookings, triggering the biggest crisis in the hotel and catering sector in memory.
With hotels and restaurants closing down, the unemployment rate, which was at its lowest for many years and had just left behind the maximums of the financial crisis of the beginning of the decade that brought the 'troika' to Portugal for the third time, has shot up again and in the employment centres there were 53,000 new unemployed in March alone.
A month later, the numbers of requests for help from the Food Bank against Hunger showed how employment in Portugal, as well as the lives of many families have changed, around 12,000 requests for help representing almost 60,000 people entering poverty and in need of help, something that many would never have imagined would happen to them.
Not even Isabel Jonet, who said that she never had seen anything like it in 27 years of working at the head of the Food Bank, where middle-class people with an organised life suddenly lose all income and the ability to meet basic expenses.
It was such a serious and unprecedented situation that the Food Bank created an Emergency Network at the very beginning of the pandemic to respond to the exceptional number of requests for help.
News of queues outside associations, non-governmental organisations, Catholic institutions or mosques requesting food assistance followed, also making visible the impact on the immigrant population, more subject to precarious low-wage jobs and without any support network. The Government decided to temporarily legalise all immigrants with residence permit applications submitted, guaranteeing more rights and protection to these people.
In May, at the Palácio de Belém, in an audience with the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of the Food Bank against Hunger and the President of Caritas Portuguesa, Eugénio Fonseca, expressed their concern about the duration of the social crisis and the need to maintain support that would guarantee a minimum of resources and dignity to families.
By this time Caritas was already aware that the financial support lines of more than 100 thousand Euros created to respond to 48 thousand new requests were not going to meet the objective of reaching June.
The official figures were revealing the increase of the crisis. By April public accounts had been impacted by 680 million Euros. By mid-June, the state had already spent 778 million Euros on exceptional support in the context of the pandemic, covering 1.2 million people and 144,000 companies.
The summer allowed some tourism and hotel activity to recover, which helped to alleviate the situation of some families, but the Food Bank, which noted the drop in requests for help during the hot months, also noted the recovery in the following months.
The hope of people, businesses and social support institutions now lies in the so-called European "bazooka," relying on the millions in EU funds to save jobs and recover the economy.