The Algarve could achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 by August when 70% of the region’s population is expected to be vaccinated.
The announcement was made by Paulo Morgado, president of regional health authority ARS Algarve, at the region’s latest Covid-19 pandemic press conference on Monday where local bigwigs also tackled the recent outbreaks at local schools and construction sites.
Portugal’s latest vaccination stage is expected to begin at the end of April or start of May and mark the next step in the fight against Covid-19.
“We still have to vaccinate 300,000 people (in the Algarve),” said Morgado.
“If we vaccinate 3,000 people per day, which isn’t even a high number, in 100 days we will have vaccinated these 300,000 people. By then we will have a coverage rate that will surpass the 70% of our at-risk population,” he added.
While the 70% mark is not “consensual”, it is generally accepted as the mark needed to reach herd immunity.
It’s the kind of good news that is needed in a region which virtually everyone agrees has been hit the hardest by the pandemic in Portugal, economically speaking.
And while a series of outbreaks in the Algarve have jeopardised the region’s emergence from lockdown, Algarve Municipalities Association (AMAL) President António Pina believes that a series of “unfair and incorrect comments have been made recently” about the region’s alleged “lack of testing resources”.
He gave the example of the recent outbreak in Portimão’s construction sector, where nearly 5,000 tests were carried out to make sure it was contained.
Said Pina, there has been “unnecessary scaremongering” which has affected the region’s image.
“All signs point to these outbreaks being under control as a result of the great work by public health authorities and Portimão Council,” he said, stressing that these small outbreaks are something we must get used to.
“Two outbreaks happen, the number of cases goes up significantly, several tests are carried out, the situation is controlled and the cases go down. They could go up again later. We need to stay calm and avoid unnecessary scaremongering,” he said.
In fact, if vaccinations go ahead as planned, Pina is confident that this summer could in fact be “substantially better than last summer”.
“By having a large rate of immunity, we can have our doors open to our main tourist markets, especially the UK,” he stressed.
This will depend, however, on how the UK government rates Portugal as a whole, he recognised.
Although the region’s Rt number is up to 1.05 (higher than the national 1.02), Algarve health delegate Ana Cristina Guerreiro said that the region’s emergence from lockdown has been going according to plan and that most new cases have been spread between family members at home.
“What I think has happened is that the fear of the disease has been lost as time has passed. People now test positive and interact with each other at home as if they haven’t, and two days later everyone is positive. Now, there is also the fact that we have many small children testing positive, which increase the risk of transmission,” she explained.
In fact, health authorities are studying whether the so-called British variant affects children more than others.
“It is not simple to draw a link between the British variant and the infection rate in children. That link is being studied by experts,” said Guerreiro, who admitted nonetheless that this does seem to be the case.
“But it will have to be the experts who confirm this,” she said.
At the time of writing, there were 13 outbreaks at regional schools, involving 101 positive cases and 42 classes in quarantine.
Two schools in Faro – a primary school and a kindergarten in Montenegro located in the same area but in different buildings – had to be closed on Friday due to an outbreak.
Ana Cristina Guerrreiro revealed that 300 tests had already been carried out and that the outbreak may be linked to a birthday party involving several children as well as a football match. If this proves to be true, “appropriate measures will be taken”.
Outbreaks were also detected at the Santa Casa da Misericórdia daycare and kindergarten and the Major David Neto school in Portimão, as well as at a bakery which is believed to have led to two other outbreaks at kindergartens in Lagoa and Mexilhoeira Grande.
However, it is the construction sector which accounts for around 40% of the region’s cases.
In Portimão alone, 153 positive cases were linked to the outbreak in the town’s construction sector – said to be behind the above-mentioned outbreaks at a local kindergarten and school in Portimão.
Several cases were also linked to an outbreak in Albufeira’s construction sector. Around 100 cases were reported in the borough in two weeks, although “not all cases were linked to the initial outbreak,” explained Guerreiro.
The good news is that thousands of tests have been carried out and that the situation is being “brought under control,” stressed Guerreiro.
According to the latest data, Portimão has the highest incident level with 362 cases in a two-week period per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Albufeira (241), Lagoa (132), Olhão (115) and Faro (100).
Photos: MARIA SIMIRIS/OPEN MEDIA GROUP
Caption: Ana Cristina Guerreiro, Algarve health delegate, and Paulo Morgado, president of regional health authority ARS Algarve