Regarded as a good example of management in the first months of the pandemic, Portugal saw the situation spiraling completely out of control in January. With a widespread increase in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, along with a healthcare system nearing borderline, the month ended with a cry for help from other countries in the European Union.
Last month’s lack of control translates into numbers. The month of January concentrated more than 42% of contagions and nearly 45% of all deaths from Covid-19 in the country, which has around 10.1 million inhabitants. There were 5,576 deaths in 31 days, compared to 6,906 between March and December.
In the past seven days, the country has the highest number of daily new cases per million population in the world and leads new deaths per million population, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“It is obvious that we are in the worst period of the pandemic. From mortality to the number of hospitalizations and new cases. There is no indicator that is not, in recent days, in its worst conditions, ”assesses epidemiologist Ricardo Mexia, president of the National Association of Public Health Doctors.
With increasing demand, the National Health System (SNS), the public health system, is nearing the limit. Non-emergency surgeries and consultations have been suspended, field hospitals have been opened and professionals from other regions have been mobilized to fight against Covid-19. Even so, the situation in several regions is critical.
In the country’s largest hospital, Santa Maria, in Lisbon, ambulance lines have become constant. In other units, like Garcia de Orta, in Almada, the situation is similar.
Faced with this scenario, the Portuguese government called for international aid from other countries of the European Union. Cooperation between Member States is envisaged in the European project and has already taken place in several countries during the pandemic.
Due to Portugal’s isolated location, at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and with land borders only with Spain, logistics are more complex.
Despite this, two countries have already announced reinforcements. Germany has confirmed the shipment of hospital supplies and ventilators, in addition to 26 medical professionals (including eight doctors), as of Wednesday (3).
Austria has said it is ready to receive critical patients from Portugal at its hospitals.
“It is imperative that European solidarity helps quickly and without bureaucracy, in order to save lives. Austria has already received intensive care patients from France, Italy and Montenegro in the pandemic, and will now also accept those from Portugal, ”Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on his social networks.
The dispatch of patients has not yet been confirmed by the Ministry of Health which, although admitting international aid, declares that “all possibilities are being considered in the sense of continuing to provide health care to the Portuguese “.
For experts, the uncontrolled pandemic in Portugal is multifactorial, but it is possible to highlight the agglomerations at Christmas time as well as the spread of the British variant of Sars-CoV-2.
The ECDC (European Center for Disease Control and Prevention), in its latest report, confirms this analysis, citing that the increase in cases “was mainly attributed to the relaxation of measures” during the end of year celebrations. , but also, of a less widely, to the diffusion of the British variant in certain regions of the country.
Against several European countries, which have tightened restrictions on parties, Portugal has deliberately decided to relax the rules. Between December 23 and 26, there were no restrictions on movement or the number of people gathered.
Even with the overthrow of the British government on the new strain of coronavirus on December 14, Portugal continued to receive visitors, without restrictions, from the United Kingdom, where a large Portuguese community is located, for more than a month.
Epidemiological investigations by the National Institute of Health, Dr Ricardo Jorge, indicate that the British variant is spreading rapidly across the country, with the likelihood of becoming dominant soon.
With a record number of deaths – from Covid-19 and other factors – the country also has its funeral system under pressure. There are queues for funerals and cremations, and hospitals have already installed additional cold rooms to deal with the increasing number of bodies.
On January 15, when the situation was already untenable, the Portuguese government moved towards a second general confinement. With schools and universities open and with several exceptions, the new lockdown has simply not gained momentum.
With the increase in the number of contagions, the authorities decided, a week later, to suspend face-to-face classes and to tighten the rules on curfews and the operation of commercial establishments.
Even so, the decline in infections has been slow.
Last weekend, the government radicalized the measures and decided to close the country’s borders at least until February 14. The country has also ordered all flights to or from Brazil to be canceled.
SLOWLY IN VACCINATION
Portugal has also been criticized for implementing its national vaccination plan. According to the ECDC surveillance system, the country is one of the slowest in the EU to administer the first doses.
Responsible for disseminating data on the pandemic in the country, the DGS (General Directorate of Health) does not include the quantity of vaccines available and administered in its daily bulletins. There is also no information on vaccinees by region or priority groups.
Amid the lack of official transparency, complaints of people skipping the line and wasted doses negligently have proliferated.
In the most recent case, last weekend, the director of the National Institute of Medical Emergencies in the north of the country resigned after it was revealed that he had authorized the vaccination of 11 employees – outside the priority group – of the pastry shop he frequents.
Since the start of the pandemic, Portugal has recorded 726,321 cases and 12,757 deaths from Covid-19.