Deaths at new daily maximum; hundreds of vaccines spoiled in Penafiel: another dismal day in Portugal

It has been another dismal day in Portugal’s agonising battle against Covid-19.

Deaths are ‘the highest they have ever been’ (+293), new infections are over 15,000 (again, the slow start to the week is becoming predictable and seems to be associated with less testing by laboratories through the weekend), and the number of active infections is back up over 170,000 (172,893).

Portugal is ‘still’ the worst in the world when it comes to seven-day rolling data per million inhabitants, but Expresso stresses the growth curve of new infections seems to be levelling off a bit. “Numbers in the next few days will be essential to see if this slowing down consolidates itself and, more importantly, if a tendency for regression begins…” says the paper.

Meantime, there has been no let up in the feeling of crisis. With the General Medical Council continuing to sound warnings of the capacity in national hospitals, hundreds of vaccines have had to be jettisoned after a failure in the refrigeration system of a hospital pharmacy in Penafiel.

Press conferences updating journalists on the epidemiological situation have been cancelled for the last three weeks, thus the ability to put everything into context has been compromised.

But for the time being, it’s looking like the variant/s circulating in Lisbon are nowhere near under control – despite all the measures of confinement pre-Christmas and since, and now the national lockdown.

The Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo area is consistently accounting for the highest number of infections – way beyond those in the north. Today’s figures show +7,605 new infections in the last 24-hour period. That is more than half the daily tally for the rest of the country and the autonomous regions of Madeira and Azores put together.

Deaths in Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo are also the highest in the country – again suggesting the ‘more aggressive, potentially more lethal’ variants are moving very much faster than the vaccination programme.

Another ‘negative surprise’ as they are often referred to in Portugal (probably better described as a shock) is that the Algarve has suddenly started to show very high numbers of new infections (+500 today). This is a leap of almost 300 in a 24-hour period – again the poor reporting/ low testing at weekends could be to blame, or it could be a sign that the region has the British variant – but whatever is the cause, it augurs badly.

Numbers in hospitals are up by 131 new patients, to 6,603 – 783 of whom are in ICUs.

As we report these numbers every day, the pressure on the nation’s hospitals becomes evermore apparent: the situation is unsustainable. Lisbon’s Amadora-Sintra hospital is ‘stabilising’ after its hiatus last night where over 50 patients had to be transferred due to a lack of oxygen, but even so no new patients are likely to be admitted until the end of the week.

Adding to the deluge of logistical nightmares, newspapers are reporting that 90% of medical personnel in the private sector are still waiting to be vaccinated, and not feeling confident that enough in this regard has been done for them.

The government is also receiving pressure from a group of 50 senior figures in the health service who want to see vaccines rolled out much more quickly. Their message is “isolate, isolate, test, test, vaccinate, vaccinate”.

It’s essentially another gruelling groundhog day with bad news and dire predictions coming from every angle.

One ‘shaft of light’ on the travel front is that Portugal has finally taken the initiative to shut down flights with Brazil, where reporters on the ground have described scenes in some cities as ‘like the Middle Ages during the plague’.

For today’s figures click here.

[email protected]