Portugal registers another high Covid death count – but nine weeks into flu season, ‘zero cases of flu’

With Portugal registering another ‘dismal day’ in terms of Covid numbers, the ‘hot news’ seems to be that the European Medicines Agency has announced it is bringing forward to next Monday (December 21) the meeting designed to give the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine emergency use approval. Very low down in terms of exposure is the revelation that nine weeks into the flu season, the country is recording a ‘zero incidence rate’ of flu.

Público has run a story however, saying ‘experts warn it’s too early to say what could happen”.

The bottom line is that “all care must be maintained to avoid greater pressure on health services at the beginning of the year”.

Among this care falls the “use of a mask and handwashing, measures that prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but also help combat the flu and other respiratory viruses”.

It’s the closest any media outlet in Portugal seems to have gone to likening Covid-19 to a very nasty case of flu.

But it’s also a soundbite that has been largely sidelined by news that the vaccine is likely to arrive before the end of the year and thus could see many countries, Portugal included, bringing forward vaccination programmes.

The European Medicines Agency decision to anticipate the vaccine approval date seems to have been powered by pressure from Germany, which declared a new lockdown this week as case numbers spiral.

Another news item promoted much more than the ‘unusual absence of flu’ has been the advice coming out of the DGS press conference today on how families should be planning to spend Christmas.

With the government’s ‘opening up’ for festivities still on target for December 23, 24, 25 and 26, DGS deputy health director Rui Portugal – standing in for director Graça Freitas who remains in recovery from her brush with the virus – appealed to citizens to follow ‘10 golden rules’ to ensure a ‘Happy Christmas’ doesn’t turn into a ‘Nightmare New Year’.

Those 10 rules (see below) should be followed in the context of a reduced Christmas with a maximum of four or five people, he said. This latter advice was part of Mr Portugal’s ‘appeal’. It is not (yet) one of the rules, which were presented as follows:

1. Comply with all rules in place relating to your borough, region and country (sic)
2. If you are sick, if you know anyone with symptoms or who has been told to stay in self isolation, they must obey the rules. Those that are nearby need to give assistance.
3. Reduce contacts before and after the festive season to four or five people beyond co-habitants.
4. With all contacts, reduce time of exposure. Instead of meeting five or six people for an hour, reduce this number to one or two. Know to use outside spaces.
5. Reduce family contacts. Family should be considered as ‘cohabitants’.
6. We should limit contacts to quick visits in the yard/ garden or on a stairway landing.
7. Physical distancing on all occasions. Kitchens at this time will be places of high risk.
8. Large, airy spaces offer most protection but are not without risk.
9. Frequent hand washing and disinfection, compliance with respiratory etiquette, the appropriate use of masks in closed spaces and outside areas where distancing is not guaranteed.
10. Attention to the sharing of glasses or eating utensils. Moderate use of all kinds of substances that can bring greater effectiveness.

(In case this last point leaves the reader a little bemused, this was the diplomatic way Mr Portugal chose to tell citizens not to drink too much. He explained that ‘substances’ could render people uninhibited which could “contribute to more affectivity and carelessness between family and friends”).

In case the first point confuses, this may require further clarification on Friday when the government promises to confirm whether ‘Christmas concessions’ outlined earlier this month (click here) could go forwards as they stand, or whether ‘the hand brake’ will need pulling.

In this regard, DGS data for the last 24-hours is promising. Deaths at 84 may still be ‘high’ but new infections at 2,638 are ‘coming down’, as are hospital admissions and numbers in ICUs.

Another positive aspect is the fact that recoveries in the last 24 hours totalled 5,761 – possibly the highest number in a single day for Portugal so far during the pandemic. This has brought the number of active cases down to well below the 70,000 mark (today there are 67,805). It’s another ‘milestone’ in the right direction.

For the full DGS bulletin click here

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