After facing an uncontrolled pandemic scenario in January – with the country leading the global ranking of new cases and deaths from Covid-19 per million inhabitants – Portugal is now experiencing a sharp drop in coronavirus infections.
With around 10 million inhabitants, the country, which reached a record 16,432 new infections in 28 of that month, totaled 2,583 on Tuesday (9). The weekly average of infections has fallen by more than 50% from the end of January.
The result is however still considered fragile, and the confinement should last until mid-March, signaled the government, after a virtual meeting with the principal experts of the country on the subject.
Prime Minister António Costa (Socialist Party) said that although the restrictions are already reducing contagion and pressure on the national health system, the lockdown must be extended.
“We have concluded [na reunião com os especialistas] also that, the greater the intensity of the containment, the faster the results, and that the high levels of the pandemic require the extension of the current level of containment, ”said the Prime Minister.
It was up to the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, to specify how long the most restrictive measures were to be in force: until mid-March.
The extended lockdown, with schools shutting down, was defended by National Institute of Health epidemiologist Baltazar Nunes, Dr Ricardo Jorge, who said this is the scenario in which screenings see a better pandemic control.
According to him, if the containment has already reduced the current transmission of the virus, “the incidence accumulated over 14 days is at levels considered extremely high”.
After a sharp increase in cases in the first two weeks of January, reflecting the easing of restriction measures over the Christmas period, Portugal adopted a sort of clandestine lockdown on January 15. Schools and universities continued to operate, in addition to several operational exceptions in the service sector.
The weak voluntary support of the population and the increase in cases among young people attending school led the government to adopt more severe measures from January 22. In addition to suspending face-to-face classes, authorities have imposed a stricter curfew in much of the country.
Due to the new variants of the coronavirus, Portugal initially suspended all flights to Brazil and the United Kingdom as well as those from these countries. Finally, on January 28, the government decided to close all borders, allowing entry and exit from the country only in extraordinary cases.
Borders are to remain closed during extended confinement. In the decree renewing the state of emergency, which should revalidate the restrictions for an additional 15 days, everything remains as is.
The hard-line containment is even more restrictive than that faced by the first wave of the pandemic, in March and April 2020.
The approach was deemed necessary after the country’s public health system was close to collapse. Across the country, hospitals were full and there were lines with dozens of ambulances in units in the Lisbon metropolitan area.
In addition to the new record cases (42% of all cases recorded since the start of the pandemic), the month of January was also marked by deaths.
The month concentrated nearly 45% of all Covid-19 deaths in the country. There were 5,576 deaths in 31 days, compared to 6,906 between March and December.
The hope of effective control of Covid-19, vaccination in Portugal, as in other European countries, has experienced delays. At the same expert meeting, the government assumed that the first phase of priority vaccination, scheduled to end in March, was to continue until April.
According to data from the DGS (General Directorate of Health), nearly 400,000 Portuguese have already received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Since the start of the pandemic, Portugal has accumulated 770,502 cases and 14,557 deaths due to Covid-19.