Miguel Castanho talking on SIC noticias

“Into the red zone” as Portuguese investigator trashes likelihood of ‘herd immunity’

Monday has not started well in Portugal. Reports on the ‘worsening situation’ of Covid-19 stress the country has ‘entered the red zone’ of the current risk matrix, while experts are simply not agreeing with each other.

On the one hand, internationally renowned virologist Pedro Simas has said that the Delta variant – and indeed any variant likely to develop – is no worse in terms of lethality than its predecessors. On the other, fellow experts seem to be insisting that this isn’t the point.

Miguel Castanho, for example, of the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Lisbon Faculty of Medicine, has been keen to trash the notion that ‘herd immunity’ can be reached when 70% of the country has been fully-vaccinated.

“The idea has been superseded by (the knowledge) that vaccines are not 100% efficacious”, he explains. “They do not protect against infection or transmission (meaning any vaccinated person to some degree will contribute to transmission of the virus)”.

Herd immunity could only be attained if  “a series of people cannot be infected or transmit the virus to other people” (which doesn’t happen).

Thus he believes it is just better to think of “completing the vaccination programme” (as this in his mindset will ensure less people get the virus badly, and less people die).

It’s even unwise to think in terms of ‘younger or older people’, most vulnerable or otherwise, as ‘anyone can get sick, anyone can transmit the virus and contribute towards making the situation worse”, he claims.

On the basis that other sources today are encouraging the use of Covid Digital Certificates beyond the purposes for which they were ostensibly created (to power safe travel), it’s becoming increasingly clear that no-one 15 months on in this pandemic really knows where we are headed, although their constant advice is: “it’s always better to be vaccinated with any one of the vaccines than to be not vaccinated”.

Like so many others before him, Miguel Castanho doesn’t believe the Lisbon weekend lockdowns will actually achieve anything other than allowing authorities to try something out that they will then probably be made even more ‘assertive’, particularly when it comes to further Metropolitan Areas.

The Lisbon lockdown is more a means of “gaining time and eventually constructing a response for the rest of the country”, he tells reporters.

Whatever happens, the situation is likely to “get a lot worse in coming days”, he adds, stressing the Delta variant is causing much the same in the way of rising cases of infection in UK. Portugal is just ‘catching up’ in this regard.

Solutions? Miguel Castanho believes new measures need to be adopted for public transports (so that people are less likely to infect each other) and remote working from home should be brought back in cases where people have returned to their workplaces.

All these opinions seem likely to fill column inches and television news channels until Thursday when the Council of Ministers will be meeting again and are likely to announce the requirement for Covid Digital Certificates internally, for public events and gatherings.

Indeed, there is the feeling that all these ‘interviews’ with experts have been ‘placed’ in a kind of chess game, leading the country towards accepting new restrictions.

As this text went online, health minister Marta Temido was being quoted as saying “we need to gain time to control new variants”. New restrictions, she admitted, are on the way.

As for the ‘situation’ in hospitals, this is seeing more and more Covid cases needing specialist treatment. Numbers today are up to 443 – a leap of 38 in 24-hours.

The country has broken into the red zone by dint of its rate of incidence which, overall, has exceeded the 120 cases per 100,000 population limit.

Rt is at 1.19; the only ‘saving grace’ thus far is that people are dying in far fewer numbers than they did during the months of January and February.

For today’s full bulletin click here.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com