Tourists have been arriving in the Algarve for a beautiful sunny Easter

Short shrift for Graça Freitas Covid ‘gloom’

General Medical Council chief shoots down DGS health director’s analysis of summer risks

Yesterday’s message from DGS health director Graça Freitas – that Portugal is “a long way from having a relaxed summer” due to the risk still posed by SARS-CoV-2 – has been given short-shrift by president of the ‘Ordem dos Médicos’ (general medical council) Miguel Guimarães.

As a text in Diário de Notícias has explained, Ms Freitas’ declarations “surprised some people” (in fact, will have surprised a lot of people).

Essentially, they were extremely pessimistic: Easter should (still) see people testing themselves for SARS-CoV-2 before they go to gatherings; should still see everyone wearing masks in indoor settings (even social indoor settings); transmissibility is still “very high” (albeit under the R1 that has always been the benchmark of risk), and “we are long from arriving at activity of the virus that would allow us a relaxed, safe summer”.

Coming as schools just received the ‘bombshell’ that masks are to remain on faces for the summer term, it was a miserable message from a professional with great tenacity for erring on the side of caution.

And it hasn’t gone down very convincingly – particularly as Miguel Guimarães says the DGS does not give the population or the scientific community all information necessary “like incidence, transmissibility and gravity (serious hospital admissions for Covid-19 and deaths)” which would allow for everyone to perceive the risks.

“I cannot see that the summer will be particularly problematic because of the pandemic”, Mr Guimarães told DN. “I believe the war we have in Europe could make things a lot less relaxed”, but not SARS-CoV-2.

There may be “a lot of transmission, but what we know in spite of not receiving official daily numbers is that the gravity of the illness is low. This changes everything”, he said – returning to his contention that war in Ukraine is altogether “much more worrying than the question of Covid and the discussion over the use or otherwise of masks…”

Miguel Guimarães’ beef is with the fact that daily Covid bulletins are no more, and no one “has a correct notion of risk” any longer.

Far less tests are being performed, he explains – but how many people test positive for the virus is not really important any longer. The big question is whether the level of hospital admissions for serious cases is low (which it seems to be, but Graça Freitas didn’t really addressed this…).

The DGS figurehead did however stress what she considers to be a ‘level of mortality too high to consider dropping remaining restrictions’ – and that is 28.5 deaths in a million inhabitants over a 14-day period.

Again, without explaining the ages, comorbidities and reasons for entry into hospital in the first place, this level of mortality actually tells people very little. On the face of it, 28.5 deaths in a million inhabitants (particularly if they are in the over-70s and over-80s) would not sound particularly unusual.

Ms Freitas has also said that mortality is maintaining a “stable tendency and lightly decreasing. We have to see if this reduction maintains or not…”

In other words, yesterday’s message was gloomy, possibly overly-dramatic and, as Miguel Guimarães inferred, did not make a lot of sense.

Certainly tourists arriving in Portugal for Easter seemed unconcerned about the virus, and much more keen to enjoy the exceptional weather.

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