During the night of last Friday, several cities in Portugal, including Lisbon, Albufeira, Braga, Porto and Lisbon, took a step back. The Portuguese authorities have imposed a new curfew starting at 11:00 p.m. on the inhabitants of 45 councils in the country with the highest incidence due to the increase in COVID-19 infections. “We are not in a position to consider the pandemic controlled,” said the Minister of State and the Presidency, Mariana Vieira da Silva, when announcing the measure.
Vaccination soars: the world exceeds 3,000 million doses with great inequalities between countries
The epidemiological situation continues to deteriorate in Portugal, which is already going through its fourth wave, as recognized by the Government of António Costa, which has decided to regain some restrictions to face it. The case curve continues to grow strongly, with the delta variant as predominant and levels of contagion that the country has not experienced since last February. If in May fewer than 400 infections were reported per day on average, now that figure is higher than 2,000.
The panorama is not homogeneous throughout the Portuguese territory: the highest volume of cases is being registered in the areas of Lisbon, in the northern region and the Algarve, one of the most touristy. The councils of Albufeira and Lisbon are among the ten with the worst incidence in the country.
A different wave
The Portuguese Government has calculated that, in the worst scenario it handles, the country will add up to 4,000 daily infections within two weeks, close to double the number it currently reports, as indicated this Tuesday by the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, in a television interview. “It is not a good scenario,” said Temido, who already advanced last week that the situation was going to get complicated.
However, it has also made it clear that this possible increase will not have the same impact on hospitalizations or deaths as at another time thanks to vaccination. “But there are consequences of COVID, in the medium and long term, that are not yet known and we cannot remain indifferent.”
As explained by the Portuguese authorities, the evolution of the incidence is significantly higher and growing in the groups of 15 to 29 years, 30 to 34 years and 0 to 14 years. It also remains high in those 45 to 59 years, and is significantly lower in age groups already vaccinated, which, according to Vieira da Silva, “means that vaccines work and that we are in a race between contagion and vaccines.” .
The new explosion of infections is still a long way from that experienced in January, when the country fought its toughest battle against the virus. Despite the increase in infections, the hospitalization curve it is not growing as much as in previous waves At the end of October, when the same number of cases was registered daily as now, there were more than 1,200 people admitted. Now there’s half, 613, according to official figures, although more tests are also being done than then.
The other great counterpoint, for now, is still low mortality. In the last 24 hours, Portugal, where around ten million people live, has registered just one death from the virus.
Still, the number of hospitalized patients and intensive care is increasing, more than double the number in early June. Hospitals in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region are close to reaching the limit of beds in intensive care for COVID-19 patients, as reported by the Portuguese newspaper Public. This Tuesday, the Minister of Health stressed that, if the worst estimates are met, hospitals would be around 800 admitted for coronavirus and there would be more than 150 patients treated in ICU (now there are 133).
“The most worrying problem is what we do not know about. We do not know what will happen in the future if we do not control the number of cases. The positive side of the matter is that vaccines are being extremely effective, reducing the number of people who need hospital care. But We don’t have enough vaccinated people to be calm. And the delta variant continues to be a wild card in this equation, “says João Júlio Cerqueira, family doctor and creator of the Evidence-Based Medicine Project (SCIMED). “Thanks to vaccines, this wave is very different because the increase in infections is not accompanied by the increase in hospitalized people or the number of deaths. But we cannot relax.”
De-escalation, fatigue and the arrival of delta
The Portuguese authorities have been concerned about the rapid expansion of the delta variant, detected for the first time in India (and already in at least 98 countries) and the most transmissible of the variants identified so far. According to a report from the Ricardo Jorge National Institute of Health (INSA) Published this Tuesday, delta is the most prevalent variant in Portugal with a frequency of 89.1%. “As expected,” says the report, its frequency has increased in all regions during the month of June, and there is a strong increase in the north.
The experts explain multiple factors that have been able to favor the worsening of the epidemiological situation, among them, mainly, the so-called “pandemic fatigue” and the relaxation of restrictions, with more foreign tourism and events such as parties that have been able to spread the virus. Cerqueira mentions those with a special concentration of people, such as weddings, baptisms, football crowds, as well as “young people enjoying the summer” and the arrival of the delta variant. “It is very difficult to single out a single variable in this situation.”
There are those who also believe that the message has been transmitted that, after the third wave, the situation was under control. He agrees. “The Government sent an early message that the problem was solved. The President of the Republic said that we would not return to the restrictions, not under his mandate. And now, we are returning to them because the virus simply does not care about our beliefs. The message has been unclear and people are tired of all this. ”
A report by health experts on Portugal’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic recently said there is “a worrying absence of drawing conclusions about what went wrong.”
Accelerate vaccination of young people
Faced with the new wave, specialists are committed to strengthening the tracking and the ability to perform diagnostic tests, as well as to speed up vaccination. “We must increase surveillance with more tests and convincing people to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” says Cerqueira.
On this last point the Portuguese Prime Minister has influenced this Tuesday. “The country continues to face this difficult pandemic, and we cannot be distracted, we cannot relax, this forces us to really accelerate the vaccination process,” said Costa. The next two weeks will be decisive, although “vaccination conditions are going to be more uncomfortable.”
This Sunday, according to EFE, the authorities have begun to contact citizens between 18 and 29 years old, while preparing to accelerate the immunization of older people during this month. The head of the vaccination plan, Gouveia e Melo, has said that the idea is that it is possible to inoculate 850,000 doses per week.
On Monday’s session, the country broke a record, with 141,500 doses administered. Citizens have had to wait long lines in front of some of the pavilions used to vaccinate.
Portugal is one of the European Union countries that has put the most doses per 100 inhabitants, a total of 93.6, according to data compiled by the specialized portal Our World in Data. 37.9% of the population have already received the complete regimen, and 59.9% have already been vaccinated with at least one dose.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health has not ruled out more forceful measures to deal with the increase in cases, although she has said that there is no legal framework to apply a new confinement, which in order to move forward requires a state of emergency to have been declared.
During the harsh third wave, the government decreed a general lockdown in mid-January and only began to gradually ease the restrictions two months later. The country was optimistic about the summer, but has once again faced the rise in infections and the reintroduction of restrictions.
In the 45 of the 278 councils where the new night curfew has been applied, teleworking is mandatory whenever possible, restaurants and cafes must close at 10:30 p.m., with a maximum number of meetings. In 19 of them, including Lisbon and Albufeira, where the risk of contagion is “very high”, the restaurants have to close at 15:30 hours during the weekend.
The perimeter closure of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area is also in force during weekends, where you cannot enter or leave, except for exceptions, from 3:00 p.m. on Friday to 6:00 a.m. on Monday. The Government decided on this measure in mid-June and, a week later, stepped on the brakes with the last phase of its deconfinement plan, which was to be extended until August, and was going to allow public transport to function with full capacity and the public entry into sports venues, according to EFE.
The forecasts are pessimistic for tourism, especially in the Algarve, where there are few foreign visitors but also national visitors due to the restrictions that affect the mobility of the country’s large cities.
Second country in incidence in the EU
Portugal is the second country in the European Union with the highest incidence of COVID-19 cases in 14 days, only behind Cyprus. It is followed by Spain, where infections are also on the rise.
Does the situation in Portugal send a message to other European countries? “After more than a year of pandemic, all countries are aware of the risks of easing restrictions. It is nothing new, for now. There is not much that Portugal can teach that we do not know,” answers Cerqueira.
At a general level, in the European continent, infections are rebounding again as a result of travel, meetings and the relaxation of social restrictions, as alerted last week by the regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The agency has warned that in Europe there are three conditions for a new wave of “excess hospitalizations and deaths” before autumn: new variants, deficit in the acceptance of vaccines and increased social interaction. “There will be a new wave in the European WHO region unless we continue to be disciplined, and even more so when there are far fewer rules to follow, and unless we all get vaccinated without hesitation when it comes to us,” said Hans Kluge, WHO chief. Europe.