Portugal ends Covid “Situation of Alert”
Photo: Bruno Filipe Pires

Specialists voice new Covid concerns

Experts with strong links to Big Pharma even warn of “triple pandemic” 

With what is billed as being a one-off meeting scheduled at Infarmed next week – to give a ‘situation report’ on Covid-19 in Portugal – experts and specialists are already pushing for it to become a return to ‘normal practice’.

Given that all these experts accept that it is quite normal to have close links to the pharmaceutical industry, it might be politic to first mention the situation as of the last official DGS health authority bulletin:

Incidence of cases of Covid-19 is DOWN by 23%. Transmissibility is also DOWN to 0.87.

It may sound like ‘good news’, but specialists and experts are not heartened. In this strange post-truth era they have belitted official statistics suggesting they are “far from representing reality”.

Epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes warns the real number of cases “may be three times higher”.

Hang onto that “may” (in journalism, any sentence or headline that has ‘may’ in it is usually considered to be sensationalist).

“The number of Covid-19 infections in Portugal should be 137% higher than published”, tabloid Correio da Manhã writes today.

“The epidemiological bulletin of the DGS (general health directorate), published yesterday, registered 5,920 cases between October 25 and 31, which reveals an average of 845 daily infections, but epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Guedes believes in reality this will be 2,000”.

It is a number that is “increasing, according to the expert, bearing in mind a slight increase in hospital admissions has already been verified”.

Experts and specialists like Manuel Carmo Guedes have made no bones of their discomfort over the relaxing of Covid combat measures. They are not happy with the fact that free testing for Covid-19 has ‘gone’; they are not happy that anyone infected with the virus is not confined to their homes for various days. They are not happy that people appear to have lost what they term “the perception of risk”.

Says Carmo Guedes: “An infectious disease that spreads silently takes advantage of the absence of measures that could slow its progress, and when we finally realise that the burden of disease in the population is already high, it becomes more difficult to reverse its spread.

“During September and part of October, we had fewer than 400 beds occupied in Covid-19 wards. Now we are at almost 500 beds,” he told Lusa, adding that deaths stayed for “a long time at five and six per day, but in recent days the average has risen to 7.6 deaths”.

These deaths nonetheless are in patients who are well over average life expectancy and not ‘well’. If they were occurring in healthy younger people, you can be certain it would have been all over the front pages by now.

Nonetheless, media reports diligently continue to outline the concerns of specialists: 

“One of the factors of uncertainty about the evolution of Covid-19 has to do with the fact that, in recent months, the Omicron variant has unfolded into numerous subvariants, which “possess mutations that allow them to evade our antibodies.” 

“For now, there is no evidence that they are more pathogenic than the first Omicron (BA.1, BA.2 and BA.5), but we still know very little about their clinical significance,” stresses Carmo Gomes, insisting that “everyone who cares about the dynamics of Covid and public health would like to return to have notifications that are more representative of the true number of cases”.

This may well be true, but it boils down to ‘who are these people who care about the dynamics of Covid and public health?’ This is what may be worrying experts and specialists.

One, already highlighted in the press for his strong connections to Big Pharma, has taken the spotlight to “predict that there will be a triple pandemic in the winter in Portugal”.

Talking to Diário de Notícias, Filipe Froes – a doctor and expert in respiratory diseases who received thousands of euros from Pfizer in recent years – outlined a mix of flu, Covid-19 and Syncytial Respiratory Virus, or RSV.

A great deal has been made of RSV recently, particularly over the risk of it in babies. It is essentially a “common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults” (this from the official website of the United States’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention).

Mr Froes tells DN that he expects a winter in which “in spite of people being vaccinated against flu and Covid, immunity will progressively diminish” resulting in an increase in cases, hospital admissions, serious cases and “inevitably and unhappily we will have an increase in deaths”…

His suggestions? “We have to take some essential measures: one of them is rapidly increase vaccination against Covid and against flu – starting with the oldest and then extending to the largest number of people possible – and we have to improve our vigilance systems a great deal…”

In other words, the government’s position, this far, is that next week’s meeting at Infarmed is a one-off. We have been told, it does not mean, necessarily, that expert opinions will be sought on a regular basis with repeated meetings through the winter. But, Filipe Froes is clearly one of the many experts and specialists who will be pushing against this.

“I think that, at the moment, the political discourse is adapted to the saturation resulting from the pandemic”, he told DN. “But as the situation worsens, it will adapt to (the)  new reality, and there are small signs that this is already happening. One of them, undoubtedly, is the announcement that INFARMED’s meetings will be back, or at least the first one has already been announced and will be, predictably, soon. In other words, there was a period of rest and now it is natural that things will adapt and relate to the progressive level of activity. My big concern, to be frank, is that we need to better monitor what is going on right now so that we can also better substantiate the measures that we need to take. The bulletins that we have at the moment have a backlog and that can cause a worsening of responsiveness”.

All of which suggests that along with the miseries of war in Ukraine, rising inflation and various degrees of social drama, headlines will be back this winter with ‘the pandemic’ that experts and specialists seem so loathe to let go.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com