“Confinement much less important than it was” says health minister as government presents virus strategy for autumn/ winter

“We realise confinement is less important than it was in the past, when we were learning”, health minister Marta Temido told journalists this week as DGS health authorities presented Portugal’s ‘Health Plan Autumn/ Winter 2020/ 21’ designed to cope with the rising number of Covid cases.

As has been constantly stressed, the rising number of cases does not denote an exponential increase in patients showing serious symptoms of the virus, nor a corresponding increase in the number of deaths.

Explains Ms Temido, the health ministry is facing them “with confidence” albeit underlined by concern, “bearing in mind the country is now much better prepared to face the pandemic.

“We have many more means, more human resources and technicians, more organisation and more knowledge”, she told RTP – stressing that the country has a total of 21,000 hospital beds available which can easily be “adapted to respond to needs” if these arise.

Right now, in Lisbon – where case increases have been ‘worrying’ authorities for weeks – just 300 of the 500 beds available for Covid patients are occupied. This has been the case generally for months: the prospect of SNS health service capacity being overrun is not yet remotely an issue.

And despite some media stories claiming ‘conflict’ between health bosses and the general medical council/ nurses council, Ms Temido insisted that “in this difficult context in which we are all living, totally frank and genuine cooperation” is the order of business with all the various ‘medical councils’, including that of the nation’s Pharmacists.

Autumn/ Winter health plan:

Presenting the plan at Monday’s daily Covid press briefing, secretary of state for health António Lacerda Sales said the strategy “seeks to respond not simply to the pandemic but all the necessities of the population”. Focus is on “preserving human life, protecting the vulnerable, particularly the elderly living in residential homes and preparing for growth in the Covid-19 epidemic”.

Thus, for the coordination and response to seasonal flu which begins in the autumn, the health ministry has created a ‘task force’ which will be focused on “maximised response to primary health care” requirements. The task force will involve seeing non-Covid patients ‘face-to-face’, attending cases remotely and in the home environment, and dispensing medication.

As for other types of ‘generalised testing’ – whether for cancers, vision or other areas, these are to be given “a greater dynamic” – suggesting finally health services will be making real effort to tackle non-Covid health issues.

Meantime, for Covid-patients, there is to be “a reinforcement of public health response, especially in case of outbreaks” through the “adaptation of areas for patients with respiratory problems and circuits of hospital internment for different phases of the response”.

Patients who in the past have been kept in hospital for social reasons when they are already ‘recovered’ but not ready to be autonomous will be moved to ‘back-up facilities’ or ‘rearguard hospitals’ which in turn will ensure the freeing up of hospital beds.

Testing is to be constantly improved on, with tests in the pipeline which will be able to give a result in 60 minutes, and priority in the interim to tests giving results within 24-hours.

The plan also establishes the “clinical utility of other tests, like those using saliva”, explain reports.

Cases of Covid-19 recovering within people’s own homes are to receive “a policy of closer proximity, namely with greater vigilance on compliance with quarantine”.

Said Lacerda Sales this isn’t in any way “a closed plan”, rather one that has to be “adapted according to the epidemiological evolution of the virus and new scientific evidence”.

To that end the plan will be the subject of bi-monthly revision.

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