“It’s not just schools… everything in Portugal must close”, insists infectious diseases expert

In the wake of the decision to close Portugal’s schools from tomorrow, infectious diseases expert Maria João Brito has warned ‘this isn’t enough’.

Talking on Rádio Renascença last night she said “people have to understand that we are at a very, very serious point – a situation of catastrophe”.

On the day Portugal registered yet another appalling record in terms of deaths and new cases, the woman in charge of the infectious diseases unit at Lisbon’s Dona Estefânia children’s hospital maintained that the situation is not going to change “until someone decides to sort it all out. Not just the schools, everything has to be closed. The situation is chaotic.

“Portugal is the worst country in Europe and second worst in the world (in terms of deaths and cases). Why don’t people understand what is going on here”, she questioned.

The infectious diseases expert stressed that “no one really knows what is happening. Very probably the English variant has already taken hold in our country…”

According to health minister Marta Temido today, estimates are that “20% of cases of infection are attributable to this variant” right now. But this could replicate to 60% within another week, she said “which changes a lot of things”.

Another ‘issue’ with people’s perception of the gravity of the moment is that outside the large conurbations, life largely continues as before. People may be ‘locked down’ but there is a lack of urgency in the air as in those areas the virus has barely taken hold. Thus ‘walks in the open air’ with children, household pets, continue – many people are still ‘going to work’ in jobs that cannot be done from home.

According to Maria João Brito – again talking from a city-centric position (Lisbon is one of the worst affected areas in the country now) none of this is “appropriate to the epidemiological situation”.

The time it is taking also to roll-out vaccinations for seniors is starting to be heavily criticised.

Jorge Soares, president of the national council for ethics in the sciences of life (Conselho Nacional de Ética para as Ciencias de Vida), “immunisation by the disease in Portugal is overtaking immunisation by vaccine”. We have to “find a way to invert this”, he told Rádio Renascença earlier this morning, describing what he calls “a lack of lucidity in the chain of command”.

Prime minister António Costa has already pledged to ‘reinforce’ the country’s vaccination roll-out in old people’s homes, but what experts are saying is ‘this isn’t enough’. Every single vulnerable old person (vulnerable in terms of age, not pathologies) should be immunised now whether they are sitting in a wheelchair in an old people’s home, or planting potatoes in their ‘horta’.

“Vaccines were conceived to reduce death”, reiterated Maria João Brito, “Therefore what I am saying is old people must be vaccinated quickly to avoid more deaths”.

Children, she confirmed, are far less affected than adults, but even in this age group the number of cases is increasing.

“We have cases in hospitals, cases in intensive care and today I was called in to an emergency. I am tired of seeing children with Covid-19”, she told the station.

The majority of children affected suffer from the multisystemic inflammatory syndrome associated with Covid-19 – an abnormal response to the virus in which the body’s defences start to attack all the organs, she explained.

Before the latest surge in cases, Dona Estefânia would see around one child a month admitted with complications from Covid infection. “Now we have four”, she said. “We have a bit of everything: small children, newborns, Covid-19 pneumonia, cerebral infections due to SARS-CoV-2. We have it all…”

Right now, there are eight children in a general Covid ward at the hospital, and one in intensive care, she added – but the problem looming is that pediatric units in other hospitals are starting to take-in adults, meaning more cases are likely to come to Dona Estefânia.

As we wrote this text, news came through that EU chiefs may well take the decision later today to close frontiers throughout the bloc (specifically to try and halt the transmission of the new variants).

Meantime Expresso has been repeating the urgency to get all seniors over the age of 80 vaccinated.

“The European Commission wants more ambitious vaccination targets, namely 80% of the over 80s vaccinated by the end of February, beginning of March” says the paper, admitting this “could lead to an adjustment of the national vaccination plan”.

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