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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal: One Year of COVID-19

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Bicycling in quiet streets during an extended lockdown


COVID-19 has been in Portugal one year as the country is in the midst of a third wave, an extended lockdown to avoid the collapse of its hospital system, and a sluggish vaccination program.

On March 2, 2020, the government confirmed the new coronavirus in a 60-year-old man who had been on vacation in northern Italy. Since then, Portugal has had 16,351 deaths and 804,956 confirmed cases in a country of 10.3 million, according to the Directorate General of Health.

Portugal intends to redirect 5% of its vaccines to Timor and the African Portuguese Speaking Countries (PALOP), in addition to investing in training, according to SIC Noticias (February 24). Prime Minister Antonio Costa underscored that support of international vaccination is essential for the eradication of the pandemic.

Minister of Health Marta Temido said that Portugal is buying 38 million vaccines more than it needs for itself in order to help other countries, according to SIC Noticias (March 1).

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that only when everyone is safe, will each of us be safe,” said Temido.

The vaccination program began on December 27, 2020. The two-dose Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines have been approved by the European Union of which Portugal is a member. Due to a paucity of participation of older people in clinical trials, Portugal has advised against the AstraZeneca vaccine for those older than 65 unless there is no other available vaccine, according to SIC Noticias (February 8).

Thus far in Portugal, 596,812 (5.81%) people have received one dose, and 265,110 (2.58%) have received both doses, according to Our World in Data.

Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, the coordinator of the vaccination plan, had proposed postponing the second dose to allow 200,000 more people to be vaccinated by the end of March. Temido said that this change will come into effect with new vaccinations and not affect those who have been vaccinated and had their second dose scheduled.

Temido said that it is not about not taking the second dose or even exceeding the interval defined in clinical trials, it is just a matter of managing quantities and being able to protect more people faster, ensuring that the proposed objectives are achieved. She added that the Directorate General of Health, Infarmed and the task force for vaccination have analyzed the possibility of greater spacing between doses and consider that this possibility is technically adequate while maintaining the recommendations of the medicine’s characteristics.

“Having 60% of the population vaccinated at the end of the summer remains the goal,” she said, admitting that it is ambitious. “We know that we will have to monitor the process carefully and with room for adjustments.”

Last spring, Portugal was recognized as having far fewer infections and deaths than many other countries. From June 11 to June 19, for example, there were seven or fewer deaths and between 227 and 723 new confirmed cases daily. By June 19, there were a total of 1,527 deaths and 38,464 cases.

In the second wave, a few months later, Portugal reached a peak of 98 deaths and 6,000 new cases in a day. By December 16, there were a total of 5,815 deaths and 358,296 cases.

In this third wave, the country has had 300 deaths and 16,000 new cases in a day, according to Itatiaia (March 1). By March 1, as cited above, there were 16,351 deaths and 804,956 cases.

Therefore, more than half of the COVID-19 deaths have occurred this year.

The arrival of the British variant and relaxed Christmas restrictions caused the spike, according to government officials.

An extended lockdown is in effect until March 16. Land travel across the Spanish border is restricted as is air travel.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa has promised to address the nation before the scheduled opening with a detailed plan for re-opening.

A study of COTEC Portugal and Nova Information Management School (Nova IMS) contends that Portugal should have the acceptable conditions to begin leaving lockdown in mid-March, according to O Journal Economico (February 26).

The study projects that on March 14, the number of new daily cases will approach 140, while the number of hospitalizations will decrease to 1,400 and those admitted to intensive care will drop to 240.

“Everything indicates that, in the middle of March, we will have reached the levels of security that allow us to begin to lift restrictions on the mobility of citizens. It is important, however, to remember that leaving lockdown should ideally be progressive, starting with lower-risk activities and advanced to progressively higher-risk activities, said Pedro Simoes Coelho, President of Nova IMS Scientific Council and the project’s coordinator.

The state’s guidelines for leaving lockdown will be three safety criteria: an incidence below 366 daily cases, corresponding to 50 accumulated cases in 14 days per 100,000: hospitalizations below 1,500, which is 85% of the capacity ideally allocated to COVID-19 patients, and ICU (intensive care unit) hospitalizations below 242 cases, which is 85% ideally allocated capacity for COVID-19 patients.

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