Latest Covid risk map, issued by ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control)

Isolation ‘curved ball’ leaves thousands ‘stuck at home’ in absolute frustration

New rules on the length of time people need to spend at home in isolation following a positive Covid test result have left thousands of citizens in utter despair. 

Yesterday’s announcement ostensibly reduced the number of days asymptomatic citizens, or ‘contacts of risk’ have to self-isolate. 

But it did not specify WHEN the new rules come into place. 

Thus, technically, everyone currently ‘at home’ with a positive test is stuck there for the next 10 days, even if they feel perfectly well and are showing no symptoms.

The change in DGS rules (from 10 to seven days) has a number of other ‘curved ball’ provisos – not least that it does not apply to children who have had ‘contacts of risk’ – unless they have received two doses of vaccine (which according to the current timetables cannot happen before February).

Infected asymptomatic children CAN escape isolation after seven days however, irrespective of whether or not they have been vaccinated.

The subtle differences essentially boil down to this: the new rule, when it comes into effect

  • applies to asymptomatic carriers (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) and ‘contacts of risk’;
  • does NOT apply to citizens who have had their 3rd booster dose, or who have recovered from Covid-19 during the last six months and have the requisite digital certificate.

But as RTP news discovered, there are other obstacles in the changing landscape: people who carry out self-tests at home, and receive positive results, are STILL meant to be communicating these results to the overwhelmed SNS24 hotline to book a PCR test “and follow instructions”.

This is where the system starts teetering wildly: in spite of government assurances that the SNS24 hotline is being improved, at least a third of all calls are not getting through.

People either have to persist in communicating their positive status – or give up and manage their situation themselves.

As specialists are beginning to accept that Omicron is very much like a normal winter cold (Graça Freitas herself told RTP that most cases are asymptomatic) chances are that many people will ‘give up’ trying to make their status ‘official’.

This could already be happening. 

In the meantime, the latest Covid bulletin shows another 31,000 positive cases in the last 24-hours.

It is the 4th consecutive day with a ‘record number of cases’.

Everything points to the situation persisting as Omicron has now infected the equivalent of 1,200 inhabitants per 100,000.

If the variant was virulent, like Delta, this would be an horrendous situation. As it is virologist Pedro Simas has reiterated his advice: it is time to stop what he calls “the madness of testing”. 

All testing is doing is incarcerating citizens at home, when the virus is benignly infecting at a speed that no restrictions can temper.

We have to start looking at the current situation in another way, he says.

“We have 90% of the population vaccinated; we have the 3rd doses administered to a large percentage of the over-70s; we have to accept that we are in an endemic situation now”.

It is time to behave “normally”, he told CNN Portugal (as he has already told other media channels click here).

Specialist colleagues are also moving towards the acceptance of SARS-CoV-2 infection as benign, while South Africa today declared its Omicron wave ‘over’, with ‘marginal deaths’.

DGS health director Graça Freitas continues to balk at the notion that natural infection is the way to go (click here), but slowly things appear to be moving in that direction, if only because systems in place for citizens to make contact in case of positive infection are unable to cope with the galloping increase of new cases.

“Information is the best weapon against panic”, writes Correio da Manhã’s editorial director general Armando Esteves Pereira today, and in that context, the DGS “should publish the percentage of vaccinated citizens with all doses currently in hospital, as well as in ICUs.

“Even among deaths there should be the separation between those that died because of Covid-19, and those that died because of other illnesses but who also had Covid-19”, says Esteves.

These are details that have been missing for too long.

POTENTIAL IMPACT ON ELECTIONS

Another ‘tough call’ for authorities is the way to spin the situation to electoral advantage.

Says a second leader in Correio da Manhã today: “How can António Costa convince the Portuguese to vote PS with the rhythm of infections accelerating, tests running out and hospitals in rupture?

“He cannot use the arguments of last year: that people behaved badly, went to excess and did not follow rules.

“Everything is different this year: people are running for tests, which they were told were free and unlimited. After being tested, those testing positive ring SNS-24 to communicate their result and contacts of risk, only to hear an automatic reply” (telling them to call back later).

“All this a month before the elections”… and six days before the country is due to be told whether or not restrictions will be continuing beyond January 10.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com