Regardless of where we were in the world, the last two years will forever stay in our memories and be immortalized in history books. As "COVID" became a household word, the world shut down: shops closed, people stayed in their homes for months, and many did not get a chance to say goodbye to loved ones who sadly passed away during this time. Hope seemed to be the only thing that kept people going, despite the harsh new reality humanity was facing.
In Portugal, the scenario was in many ways similar. Yet, the Portuguese remained hopeful. From North to South, red and green flags hung from window sills and people cheered the healthcare heroes working in the front lines.
With time, the country slowly returned to “a new normal” in the middle of 2020, with restaurants and cafés buzzing with life, tourists returning to Portugal and businesses booming again. At the beginning of this year, the Portuguese felt a renewed sense of hope as the end of COVID seemed to be just around the corner.
Yet, sharing the joys of a globalized world also means sharing its aches and pains. As the Delta variant swept through Europe in January, Portugal was again reminded that we are all in this together (or as we say here in Portugal: "estamos juntos").
With a major increase in the number of infections and hospitalizations in February, the difficult decision of Portugal returning to a partial lockdown was made and stricter preventive measures were again put into place. However, it was no surprise when the majority of the population embraced this new challenge with the same courage and determination that has always characterized the Portuguese throughout history. When the time comes to face the storm, the Portuguese adjust the sails to meet the waves, working together to sail away from harm’s path... COVID-19 in Portugal was no exception.
Portugal’s COVID vaccination success
Amongst the positive highlights of Portugal in 2021, one of the most impressive is its record-breaking vaccination rate, which is at the very heart of the country's ability to bounce back.
As in all European Union countries, Portugal's COVID vaccination programme started with healthcare professionals and was gradually extended to other groups, prioritizing those who are most vulnerable according to age and health condition.
Almost a year after the first Pfizer vaccine was administered, the COVID vaccination rate in Portugal is one of the highest in the world:
More than 85% of Portugal’s population of 10.3 million is fully vaccinated.
About 98% of all of those eligible for vaccines in Portugal — meaning anyone over the age of 12 — have been fully vaccinated.
Population over 65 is already receiving a third dose to improve their response to the initial vaccine series, and the Government is working towards new measures to rapidly increase these innoculation rates.
The success of the Portuguese COVID vaccination programme is due to a highly effective plan created by a multidisciplinary team of healthcare and governmental agencies, who worked together to get as many vaccines as possible to as many people as possible. The success of the programme is also due to Portugal’s free national healthcare system, which has massive popular trust.
This success allowed restaurants, cafés, theatres, schools and businesses in general to function with very few to no restrictions throughout the majority of this year. As a result, the Portuguese were able to regain their freedom, venturing outdoors, spending time with family and friends and enjoying life in general. Things that were not just important to boost the economy, but represent fundamental values for the Portuguese way of life!
Portugal won medals at the Olympic Games
Another thing that the Portuguese people love is sports, and the 2020 Summer Olympics also brought home tears of joy!
After being postponed to 2021, the Olympic Games finally took place during the summer allowing Portugal to win four medals:
Jorge Fonseca (Judo: Men's 100 kg) - Bronze;
Patrícia Mamona (Athletics: Women's triple jump) - Silver;
Fernando Pimenta (Canoeing: Men's K-1 1000 metres) - Bronze;
Pedro Pichardo (Athletics: Men's triple jump) - Gold.
Although Portugal was not able to qualify for the Euro 2020 Football Championship, which caused heartbreak to millions of Portuguese soccer fans, these Olympic Medals were received with sheer joy, showing the world that Portugal has much more to offer in sports in addition to Cristiano Ronaldo’s spectacular goals!
The Web Summit returned to Lisbon
This year Portugal was also able to share with the world why it is such an important player in the tech scene.
The Web Summit, Europe’s most important event dedicated to innovation and startups, was once again hosted in Lisbon. Portugal’s capital, one of the world’s fastest-growing technological hubs, has been home to this prestigious conference in the last few years, joining some of the most diverse tech specialists worldwide to share new insights with thousands of attendees.
This conference is also an important event for entrepreneurs and other players in the technological field who look at Portugal as an attractive market to receive foreign investment.
Considered to be “the best technology conference on the planet” by Forbes, Web Summit 2021 brought together more than 42,000 people, including all the major companies redefining the tech industry.
Portugal among 'greenest' countries to live in
In 2021, Portugal also took exciting new steps towards becoming one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world to live in or to visit.
As of July 1, 2021, it is prohibited to provide clients with any type of grocery or shopping bag, free of charge. Single-use plastics such as swabs, straws or plastic cups have also been banned in Portugal since last November.
In 2022, new measures will be implemented in an ambitious governmental plan that places Portugal at the forefront of countries with greener environmental policies. Among these, by September 2022 retailers will no longer be allowed to provide or use cutlery, plates, straws as well as cups and food containers made of expanded polystyrene.
Portugal has currently dozens of measures approved to combat climate change, with more than 13 billion euros allocated to specific programmes that include areas such as the recovery of biodiversity, watercourses and landscape management, clean energy, sustainable transportation, as well as preventing forest fires... all of which aim towards a cleaner, greener future.
Foreigners in Portugal reach the highest number ever
Another highlight of 2021 is the fact that the number of foreigners residing in Portugal continues to grow, transforming the country into a melting pot of cultures, languages and global experiences.
According to the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF), the foreign population living in Portugal increased in 2020 for the fifth consecutive year, registering 12.2% more compared to 2019, and totalling 662,095 citizens — the highest number ever recorded.
It’s no longer a surprise to see Portugal at the top of the list of the most visited countries in Europe, but also among the best destination in the world for expats.
Factors such as safety, beautiful landscapes, great weather, friendly people and very affordable prices are at the top of the list of reasons why foreigners are moving to Portugal.
Throughout 2021, international magazines from all over the world continuously included Portugal as one of the best places in the world to live. Recently, “Los Angeles Magazine”, in the United States, published an article claiming that “The New California Dream Is in Portugal”, sharing why Hollywood A-Listers and Tech Influencers from Silicon Alley to Silicon Valley are flocking to what they consider to be to “the Golden State’s European Twin”.
Economic growth in Portugal is expected to grow more than 5% in 2022
Although Portugal is currently facing new Parliament elections that will take place next January, after the Government was unable to approve the last State budget, the EU raised its growth forecast for Portugal to 5.3% in 2022.
Any possible political instability has not affected economic growth. The Portuguese economy continues to recover from the effects of COVID-19, with an impressive employment rate that continues to rise and is currently above pre-pandemic rates.
During this year, tourism in Portugal also grew higher than initially expected. Despite travel restrictions still in place in many countries and new travel regulations such as the requirement to present an EU Digital COVID Certificate or other proof of vaccination upon arrival, Portugal expects tourism to continue to grow in 2022.
2021 in review… and what awaits Portugal in 2022
Regardless of the challenging situation the world is still currently facing, namely with the advent of new COVID variants such as the Omicron, Portugal has shown time and time again that it is still possible to find happiness… even in something as simple as going to the café in your "bairro", to drink a coffee and chat a bit with a neighbour.
By focusing on the things that truly matter and working together, the Portuguese were able to achieve several goals in 2021. The year that now welcomes us can only be looked upon with hope and a renewed sense of pride for all that Portugal has been able to accomplish.