Experts insist Portugal’s ‘risk matrix’ is “obsolete, completely useless and misleading”

Experts in Portugal are starting to sound the alert once again.

On a day when another 2,436 positive cases of the new coronavirus have been identified – the vast majority of them again in Lisbon – along with seven deaths (the highest number in the last two months), it is clear they fear authorities are not moving fast enough.

The warnings are evenly split between those that believe the ‘risk matrix’ is ‘obsolete, completely useless and misleading’, and those that think it is simply not being used efficiently.

In whatever camp thinking resides, the message coming through is that the situation shows every sign of getting a great deal worse, and that measures of combat (ie new restrictions) will need to be “disruptive” in order to really clamp down on rising incidence rates.

Carlos Antunes, investigator at the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Sciences, stresses “lethality is lower, admissions into hospital infirmaries are also lower, but in intensive care that is still not the case…”

Carlos Antunes is all for ‘sticking with the risk matrix as it is, but simply acting much faster with the data”.

Henrique Silveira – a university lecturer in mathematics and pandemic analyst at the IST (Superior Technical Institute) – is more for changing it radically so that decisions can be made in ‘real time’, rather than on the basis of information collated over 14-days.

He warns “there is a disproportionate number of people in intensive care right now when one considers the current rate of deaths”.

Knowing what he knows about the percentage of patients who don’t make it out of intensive care alive, Mr Silveira is talking on the basis of mathematical reality.

It’s clear from SIC’s report today that despite conflicting feelings over worth of the risk matrix, experts are concerned about ‘time’ and how they feel it is being wasted.

Said Carlos Antunes: “We have to start anticipating,  and this cannot be with gradual measures. We have to act with disruptive measures in order to interrupt the increase in incidence more quickly”.

His reasoning is that with an incidence of 3,000-4,000 cases (per day, which experts predict is coming) there will be short, medium and long-term economic and social repercussions. It’s simply that no-one can forecast what these might be.

SIC explains that the PSD opposition has been sounding out ‘expert views’. 

Mathematician Jorge Buescu, vice-president of the European Mathematical Society and a professor at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon suggests reliance on the risk matrix as it stands now is ‘dangerous’ when in the eye of a exponential storm (which the rising incidence fanned by the Delta variant seems to be).

As he explains: “Right now we have exponential growth. There is no point knowing what happened 14 days ago. What is important is what is happening now…”

And now shows the largest daily number of deaths for the last two months; one of the highest tallies of new infections; an incidence rate of 194.2 cases per 100,000 and an Rt of 1.17. 

Just a week ago, new infections were coming in at a little over 1,000 a day (and incidence was 138.7 cases per 100,000). Now the country has reached over 2,400 new cases per day for the last two days, with numbers in hospital rising by almost 90 in seven days.

President Marcelo has sought to ‘calm’ the growing sense of anxiety, stressing that numbers suffering serious consequences from infection are still residual. But experts are in this ‘battle’ for their skill with ‘mathematical predictions’. The last question on their minds is ‘how predictions might affect the economy’. They are simply working with data.

This may be the ‘issue’ behind unsettling media reports. Expresso has a major spread this weekend stressing that “the Executive has no plans (to bring in) additional restrictive measures, even in the municipalities where the situation is worsening the most”. 

The paper claims “specialists fear the increase in hospital admissions could put the capacity of response to non-Covid patients at risk”.

Right now ICU space in Lisbon is up to 71. If it reaches 100 (which the experts believe it will by the end of the month), patients will once again have to start being ‘diverted’ to other parts of the country.

Such a solution will only work if other parts of the country are not also ‘grappling with rising demand’ for hospital care.

Even after 18-months of pandemic, Portugal’s capacity for intensive care “without this compromising the rest of hospital activity” is just 245 beds. 

Says Expresso, the country is already at 46% of this limit.