ANTÓNIO PEDRO SANTOS/LUSA

Pressure on intensive care beds mounts: Algarve “exceeds limits”

Headlines today flag further alerts over increasing pressure on hospitals due to Covid-19.

SIC reports that there are 11% more patients in intensive care this week than last, and that the Algarve has “reached the limit of occupation, according to red lines”.

The message is alarming. But the real figures are not quite so dramatic.

For example, in comparison with the same week last year, Portugal is in much better territory.

This time last year the five day period between December 6-10 ended with 509 people in intensive care with Covid-19; 3,304 all told in the nation’s hospitals.

This year there are ‘only’ 137 people in intensive care; a total of 947 suffering from Covid in hospitals.

Deaths in the five day period this year came to a total of 87, while the same period last year saw almost that amount die in just one day. 

Totting-up the full number of fatalities between December 6-10 in 2020, 399 people died from or with Covid-19.

In other words, the differences this year are enormous. The pressure on health services has been vastly reduced.

Terminology however continues to fan concerns: “mainland Portugal has 56% of its ICU beds destined for patients with Covid-19 occupied and the region of the Algarve has reached its limit of occupational alert”.

This sounds so much more inflammatory than saying “137 people are in intensive care across the country as of the last DGS bulletin – the majority of which are people between the ages of 60-79″ (who will almost certainly have been double-jabbed, as this age group is the one that has most responded to calls to get vaccinated).

According to the latest INSA (public health institute) report on ‘red lines’, the north and centre are the areas with the highest intensive care bed occupation “above the limit of 66%”, reports SIC – only afterwards adding that this translates into “a moderate occupation”.

Intensive care bed occupation in the north is higher (69%); even higher in the centre (79%), while Lisbon/ Vale do Tejo and the Alentejo are on just 36%.

Again, no numbers are given, just percentages: it is difficult to understand how many people, for example, are in intensive care in the Algarve (which has apparently reached 100% capacity of its intensive care beds for Covid-19 patients) when there are only 137 people in intensive care units in the whole country.

Further ‘grey areas’ come in the assertion that “mortality has increased by 28% and the tendency is increasing”.

This actually happens every winter. It is perfectly normal.

The INSA report continues: “On December 1, 2021, specific mortality for Covid-19 registered a value of 21.8 deaths in 14 days for 1,000,000 (one million) inhabitants, compared to 17 for 1,000,000 (one million) the week before”.

These numbers are minimal when one considers that every day in Portugal at least 250 people die – at this time of year averages are generally higher. 

ECDC red lines have defined anything over 20 deaths per day over 14 days per million inhabitants as “a red line”… while the bogeyman Omicron is still dangled in front of audiences in spite of reports from South Africa where those contracting Omicron are describing it as “a normal flu… on a scale of 1-10 in terms of discomfort, around a 4” (see report by Sky News).

Earlier this week politicians suggested Portugal does not need to make Covid vaccinations compulsory as their uptake has been stellar (according to Our World in Data, Portugal is close to 89% fully vaccinated; the 3rd most vaccinated country in the world – and that’s before the next phase of the campaign to inoculate children between the ages of 5-11).

The problem is that even with such an impressive level of vaccine acceptance, the virus ‘still finds a way’ (possibly because the vaccines have not yet worked out how to stop transmission, or indeed infection).

Authorities in Israel have already alluded to the need for 4th booster jabs for the immuno-suppressed, while Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla has said that a 4th shot may be needed “faster than expected to protect against Omicron” (the variant that those who get it in South Africa have described as a flu…)

Meantime, in Brussels, the vice-president of the European Commission Margaritis Schinas has suggested that the upcoming European Council (scheduled to run next Thursday to Friday) offers “no better opportunity to discuss the issue of mandatory vaccination across Europe”.

As some observers have remarked, the definition of madness is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com