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Portugal: one of safest places in Europe this winter, says Covid surveillance boss

Portugal will be one of the two safest places in Europe this winter as a new Covid wave unfolds, the director of surveillance at the European Centre of Disease Control has told the Telegraph.

The other safest place will be Malta.

Dr Bruno Ciancio’s job is to monitor disease across the continent. He has told the UK daily that he sees “three distinct epidemiological trends” at play through the coldest months – all determined by levels of vaccination.

The critical factor, he explains, is vaccination coverage across an entire population – including teenagers.

Indeed, he is one of many experts who maintain that the pandemic “will be driven more and more by those unvaccinated”.

His scenario therefore sees just two countries with enough of the population inoculated against Covid-19 to avoid what the Telegraph calls “a substantial resurgence”.

The over-80% of populations vaccinated in Portugal and Malta “will not only break the link between infection and severe disease, but will also have a substantial impact on reducing transmission”. 

“Most of the rest of western Europe, including the UK, falls into a second tier where overall vaccination rates are hovering at between 60% to 80%.

“These countries have relatively good vaccination coverage, but not high enough to impact transmission… [and] there’s a large portion of the population still susceptible,” said Dr Ciancio. 

“Couple that with the fact that the vaccine isn’t 100 per cent effective, and it means we’ll see consistent waves of infection.” 

“He warned that countries including Germany, Ireland and Denmark – where cases are starting to tick upwards – are likely to follow the trajectory of the UK in the coming weeks”.

None of this means these countries “are on track for a repeat of last winter” but “boosting stagnating immunisation rates to resemble Portugal and Malta should be an absolute priority to curtail the virus”, he said. 

“There is also another threat countries should look out for: flu. A bad season, alongside even moderate Covid-19 transmission, could complicate diagnoses and overwhelm health systems”.

Early data from Croatia is already hinting at this.

And here comes the ‘third tier’ of Dr Cancio’s predictions: Eastern Europe, “where vaccination rates have barely surpassed 50% and in some instances stand far lower”.

These countries are already facing a “new wave of Covid which is “very very similar, if not worse, than what was observed in the previous wave”. 

In short, the virus, in these countries, is “spiralling out of control.”

“Hospitals in Romania have run out of beds as the virus spreads like wildfire; Bulgaria has imposed new restrictions and Ukraine is urging people to get vaccinated after deaths hit a new peak. 

“These countries have some of the lowest immunisation rates across the continent, at 37, 25 and 16 per cent respectively. Such a low level of protection is doing little in the face of delta”.

Thus in the surveillance professional’s expert opinion, addressing these problem and boosting take-up in western Europe “where vaccination rates have dramatically slowed, especially among children, will be the single most important intervention to curb Covid across the continent – which is currently the only region in the world where cases are climbing” 

“The more unvaccinated people are infected, the more vaccine breakthroughs there will be, and the bigger the impact on the vaccinated,” Dr Ciancio concluded. “It’s that simple.”

Of course, for every expert that believes the unvaccinated are powering the spread of the virus, there are others who will attest to the contrary, citing published data (click here). But the bottom line of Dr Ciancio’s message is that Portugal is one of the best places to be this winter – and that’s definitely not to be sneezed at.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com