Wednesday January 13 has seen the effects of the pandemic scale new heights in Portugal: the highest number of deaths per day so far (156), the highest number of cases registered in 24 hours (10,556) and the highest daily number of admissions into hospital (197).
With hours to go before the country is locked down for a minimum period of a month, it is clearer than ever that the arrival onto the scene of vaccines has done nothing to dent the advance of this virus.
Media reports are stressing that over 507,000 people have now been infected by Covid-19 in Portugal since the start of the pandemic.
Active cases are at 116,328 – with another 130,887 people under health authority ‘vigilance’ (one of them being the country’s own president who has had to remove himself from what must anyway be the most dysfunctional presidential campaigns in living memory).
There are now 4,240 people suffering the worst affects of Covid-19 in hospitals up and down the country. It may not sound a great deal, but it’s a figure that has seen many centres declare ‘situations of rupture’.
The worst affected areas remain those around the capital and in the north – areas where populations are in numbers far greater than in the south.
Deaths in the last 24 hours have been highest in the Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo region (+67), followed by the north and centre (both on +36), Alentejo (+11) and Algarve (+4).
Madeira and Azores continue to report new infections, on a far reduced scale to those registered in the mainland, but no deaths.
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INSA, the public health institute Ricardo Jorge, has meantime announced that it has analysed 2,342 samples of genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 taken from infected people and found 72 cases of the highly infectious ‘English variant’ of the virus. These cases are spread over 28 boroughs in 10 districts.
The virulence of the English variant has plunged UK into a new lockdown with no time-limit seemingly attached to it.
Other variants and mutations are constantly appearing, and the major questions is ‘will they compromise the efficacy of the vaccines?’
One important aspect to hold onto however is the fact that viruses tend to become “more transmissible and less pathogenic over time” (meaning less deadly). These are the words of Professor Saloom Abdul Karim, one of the world’s leading infectious disease experts, who has been explaining to journalists that more infectious variants are on the way.
Chairman of South Africa’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, Prof Abdul Karim warns it is too early to know the extent to which existing vaccines will provide immunity to the new variants, largely because they (the variants) are still in the process of developing.
But on the basis that Covid-19 will mirror the performance of other viruses, a modelling study by scientists at Emory and Penn State, published in Science journal this week suggests the evolutionary path for Sars-Cov-2 will eventually lead to a less virulent “endemic” virus, “joining the ranks of other mild cold-causing coronaviruses that currently circulate in humans”.