Number of new daily cases (200-300) is believed to be a huge understimate
Portugal has an average of 10 deaths from Covid-19 every day and between 200 and 300 new cases, figures that represent “a huge underestimation” because most of those infected no longer report the situation, according to epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes.
A few days before the start of the seasonal vaccination campaign against Covid-19 and flu (29 September), Gomes analysed the epidemiological situation in Portugal of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes Covid-19.
“During the summer, the number of notifications of positive cases of Covid-19 remained fairly stable at between 200 and 300 new cases per day. These are the cases we know about, and they represent a major underestimation of reality because most people now self-test and don’t report,” the professor at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon told Lusa.
According to the epidemiologist, the reported cases come from people who are hospitalised and test positive for Covid-19 or from people who are more concerned about their state of health and go to primary health care and get tested.
Analysing the circulation of the virus in the summer, Manuel Carmo Gomes, a member of the Technical Commission for Vaccination against Covid-19, said that in June and July, there were a minimum number of daily cases, below 180 and that in August, they rose, reaching 600 to 650 cases per day.
“There is no certain explanation as to why they went up. It was probably the mega-events that took place in August, with large gatherings of people,” but that rise has stopped and, at the moment, “there’s already a reversal” and “things seem to be normalising,” he said.
Manuel Carmo Gomes emphasised the fact that this summer and throughout 2023, the virus has not had a very strong seasonality, unlike, for example, the flu.
“COVID has always circulated with quite remarkable activity throughout the summer months, and it’s to be expected that cases will now rise with the onset of autumn because obviously people are spending more time indoors in unventilated areas, schools and work are starting up again, etc. So it’s to be expected that cases will now resurface.”
As far as healthcare facilities are concerned, the specialist said that “the summer was also very stable”, with around 200 people hospitalised every day testing positive for Covid-19, many of whom were hospitalised for other health reasons. Of these 200, around 10% were in intensive care, but not necessarily because of Covid-19.
“Also in August, with the rise in cases, there was a slight rise in those hospitalised who tested for Covid-19,” he pointed out.
According to the epidemiologist, deaths were also very stable throughout the summer and ranged from three to six deaths a day, with a minimum in June (an average of three deaths a day) and a rise in August associated with the increase in cases.
“At the end of August, Portugal reached 10 deaths a day, and that’s where we are at the moment”.
“Therefore, Covid has continued among us. It hasn’t shown any signs of disappearing, unlike many other respiratory diseases (…) and it has always continued to evolve in order to evade our antibodies,” he commented, adding that since March, the XBB sub-variant of the coronavirus has become dominant and has had “many descendants”, with XBB.1.5 being one of the “most abundant” and which will be used in the vaccine against Covid-19.
Vaccination “a priority”
Epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes said on Wednesday that the “first priority” in the vaccination campaign that kicks off on September 29 is to immunise as many people at “high risk” as possible right from the start since Covid-19 is not going to disappear.
“There’s no point in having illusions that we’re going to be able to stop the virus circulating. There is no country at the moment that has that illusion. So the first priority is to try to cover as many people as possible who are at high risk in the first 10 weeks (of the vaccination campaign),” in order to prevent serious illness and not overload hospitals, Manuel Carmo Gomes told Lusa.
“If we prevent a very large number of people from ending up in hospital, we’re reducing the impact, and that’s the aim: to protect lives and also to protect the national health system, so that’s why we’re prioritising these people and that’s what’s going to happen,” he reiterated.