LISBON (Reuters) - Susana Pires de Oliveira, a doctor at Lisbon’s Sao Jose Hospital, has moved out of her home to live alone in an apartment owned by people she doesn’t even know.
The reason for the sudden move? She does not want to risk transmitting the coronavirus to her family.
Because of her work, she could easily be a carrier of the disease, she said.
The 35-year-old, who is training to specialise in anaesthesiology, is taking no chances, the more so because she has two sons, the youngest of whom has an autoimmune deficiency - making him more vulnerable to the illness.
“I saw an offer on Facebook for an apartment I could stay in for free. I decided, with my husband, it was best for me to leave - to serve others, and protect my family,” said a visibly tired Pires de Oliveira, who moved to the flat on Monday.
Some property owners in Portugal are offering free accommodation to health workers who are afraid of exposing families to the coronavirus they are battling at work.
In normal times, the sunny seaside country welcomes millions of tourists every summer. But increasingly stringent travel restrictions are leading to mass cancellations, leaving hundreds of rooms vacant.
As the government mobilised thousands of additional doctors and nurses to combat the virus, property owners put out messages on social media stating that their rooms were available for health workers on the frontlines.
“I don’t know what I’d have done without this initiative,” Pires de Oliveira told Reuters, fighting back tears.
“It’s so important - for those of us who have sacrificed being home, with our children, so we can continue serving our function in the best way we can, while keeping everybody safe.”
A group entitled “COVID - Solidarity Accommodation for Health Professionals”, set up on Sunday evening, already has nearly 10,000 members and hundreds of posts.
“It’s all been so spontaneous, and it makes us feel that the population is on our side,” 35-year-old Francisco Almeida e Cunha, who works in an intensive care unit in Portugal’s northern city of Porto, told Reuters.
“We’re working in miserable conditions, and fighting something so awful - these gestures really motivate us.”
An initiative is underway to develop a protocol ensuring all parties are protected and that properties are properly cleaned, led by a group of landlords working with a renters’ association and Portugal’s tourism authority.
But many landlords are already handing over their keys.
“I know there is a group working with the authorities, but we’re not waiting,” said Bruno Ribeiro, who is hosting Cunha in one of his four properties in Porto and has people lined up for the others. “This is chaos. There’s no time to wait.”
Local governments in Porto and the Algarve have stepped in to help coordinate efforts.
“My hostel is already full,” said Jorge Guiomar, who owns an eight-bed hostel in Faro, Algarve. “The people staying had been sleeping in the hospitals, afraid to go home.”
Ana Viegas, 27, registers patients at Faro’s hospital and is one of Guiomar’s guests.
“I live with my grandmother and she has an autoimmune disease,” she said. “I couldn’t stay there. I found out about this on Facebook. Now I can relax, but also work longer hours, and do my job properly.”
Portugal has reported 785 confirmed cases of coronavirus, far below neighbouring Spain’s 17,147. Still, the health ministry expects cases to rise until the end of April. On Wednesday, the government imposed a state of emergency.
Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; editing by Andrei Khalip, Ingrid Melander and Mike Collett-White