Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge

Portugal on track for “highest incidence” of cases in Europe

Thanks to the ‘super-spreader’ ability of the Delta (Indian) variant, Portugal is on the way to becoming one of the countries with the highest number of positive cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe. 

But that does not mean it will see vast numbers of people flooding hospitals.

Mathematician Óscar Felgueiras, whose speciality is in epidemiology, believes the impact on hospitals will be ‘moderate’, because of the ongoing vaccination programme.

With something of a political barney ongoing since President Marcelo said over the weekend ‘no more lockdowns on my watch’, the issue really is will Portugal will attain herd immunity through vaccinations alone,  or will natural infections speed the situation along.

The latter option is looking the most likely.

Today, for example, there have been almost 1,000 new cases registered across national territory, 65% of them in Lisbon. 

Numbers in hospitals are ‘creeping upwards’, but deaths are still at a minimum (two in the last 24-hours).

Says Óscar Felgueiras, any decision to bring in new restrictions will be “more political than a question of public health”.

The way the variant is picking up steam “we won’t just overtake the European average” for cases, “we will overtake the majority of European countries. It will be fast”, the mathematician predicts. “Another week or two (and) we will be ahead of almost every country (in Europe)”.

Whereas the Delta variant has not yet had much of a chance to spread to Eastern Europe, a combination of events in Portugal have powered it along: we opened up to visitors from other countries a month ago; the population is in unrestricted mobility; life and society have opened up considerably – and this particular mutation of the virus is vastly more contagious.

But that is ‘the worst’ aspect of the current reality. The Delta variant is not ‘vastly more lethal’ – indeed, reports have been warning people that they may mistake its symptoms for ‘a summer cold’.

In other words, while the increase in incidence is ‘clearly’ a threat to public health, it is not a serious one.

Óscar Felgueiras believes politicians will have to weigh up the issue of the country’s increasing incidence against “the economic impact and impact on the mental health of Portuguese” of any new restrictions.

Lisbon and Vale do Tejo remain the Delta’s variant’s greatest playground. The moment of ‘super transmission’, according to Mr Felgueiras, came around a month ago (May 12).

“This moment could have had the effect that the proportion of the Delta variant increased to a different level than elsewhere in the country”, he said – meaning that no matter how people behaved, contagion would be greater.

As it is, countless reports indicate people in Lisbon – particularly the younger generations – are not following health authority advice to the letter. Thus it’s more than likely that the variant will see the number of new cases break-through established safety ‘thresholds’.

Mr Felgueiras told Lusa that it is “improbable” numbers in Lisbon will stabilize in time to avoid a reverse in the municipality’s process of deconfinement.

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