Several non-profit organizations have warned that these measures will only serve to delay the underlying crisis from "Airbnbization" and real estate speculation that has long threatened the housing market. In response, Lisbon City Council announced a rent freeze for 70,000 social housing units.
The government also decided, on March 30, to immediately grant all immigrants awaiting residence permits and all asylum-seekers temporary residency rights. "It is a duty of any society to show solidarity in times of crisis in order to ensure that migrants have access to healthcare and social security", said Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita. Although generally exceptional compared to other EU nations, this move makes sense from a health care point of view as it enables migrants and asylum-seekers to access the national health system, taking care of their own health in order to protect both themselves and others. But there are other reasons beyond humanitarian considerations: it is also in the interest of a state with an aging population, plummeting birth rates, and a shortage of low-cost labor in sectors such as agriculture and construction.
A fragile consensus
Thus far, the government has received broad public support and political consensus for its key measures, such as the state of emergency. Such a declaration had not occurred since the return of democracy in 1974, but it was approved by more than 90% of the population. The draft presidential decree declaring a state of emergency was passed by the Assembly of the Republic (a unicameral chamber of 230 members) on March 18. The only abstainers were the Communist/Green Party coalition, the single Liberal Initiative deputy, and one non-attached member. All other groups, including the Left Bloc, PAN (People-Animals-Nature), the opposition center-right PSD, and the one far-right Chega deputy voted in favor of the text, despite its intention to temporarily curtail freedoms. António Costa, leader of the majority party PS, called it a "necessary evil" after having promised his government would ensure "that the necessary balance between safety and freedom is respected". But on April 16, during the vote to extend the state of emergency by 15 days, a few dissenting voices were heard, including that of the Communist Party, who deemed such an extension "unjustified and disproportionate in the public health fight against the epidemic". The ten Communist members voted against it, as did both the Liberal Initiative deputy and the non-attached member, while the two Greens and one Chega member abstained.
This broad consensus, uniting government, political parties, intermediaries and civil society, has given the government indisputable freedom to act. Praised by many outside the country, including Spain's Second Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, the approach proved it could stand the test of time, even as questions multiplied in the weeks running up to the gradual lifting of restrictions at the beginning of May. For example, on Easter Monday, 159 business leaders sent a letter to the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister stating that "economic activity cannot be suspended completely until all risk of contagion is eliminated", and requesting that new measures be implemented. Inspired by the South Korean approach, these measures included a general requirement to wear face masks, close tracking of cases and mass screening and were aimed at reopening the economy in a controlled manner.