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Portugal is in the grip of a “terrible” phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, with no letup expected for weeks, the country’s prime minister has warned in a blunt and bleak assessment of the current situation.
On Wednesday, Portugal reported a record single-day death toll of 293 people, bringing the country’s total number of coronavirus deaths to 11,305. It had logged 668,951 confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday.
More than 20 ambulances carrying Covid patients queued outside Portugal’s largest hospital on Wednesday evening as they waited for beds to become available, while doctors in other hospitals warned of a risk of the oxygen support system collapsing.
Speaking the same night, the prime minister, António Costa, told the TVI channel that things were not “bad” but “terrible”. He added: “There’s no point in feeding the illusion that we are not facing the worst moment. And we’ll face this worst moment for a few more weeks, that is for sure.”
Costa said the situation had worsened partly because his government relaxed restrictive measures between Christmas and the end of the year, but also because of the virulence of a new variant of the virus first detected in Britain.
The prime minister also said he should have explained things better.
“There were certainly errors: often the way I transmitted the message to the Portuguese … and, when the recipient of the message did not understand the message, then it is the messenger’s fault, I have no doubt about it,” he said.
Portugal, which has been in lockdown since mid-January, last week ordered the closure of all schools for a fortnight. However, the country still managed to hold a presidential election on Sunday. Socialising is limited to members of the same household, non-essential shops and facilities are closed, and bars and restaurants are shut except for takeaways and deliveries.
Although the German government is sending military medical experts to Portugal to determine how best to help, Costa warned people not to get their hopes up.
“In everything Portugal has asked for, unfortunately [Germany] has no availability, namely doctors, nurses,” he said. “They have ventilators, but at the moment we don’t need them because we have enough.”
The prime minister also urged caution when it came to the idea of sending patients to other European countries for treatment. During the first wave of the pandemic, Germany took in hundreds of patients from Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
“It’s different for a country which has a geographical position like Portugal – between the Atlantic and Spain – than for a country that is at the centre of Europe with borders with several countries and therefore where cross-border collaboration is much more common and much easier.”
Costa did, however, sound a cautiously hopeful note, saying the latest lockdown measures could start bringing down infection numbers from next week.
Portugal won plaudits last spring for the speed, determination, discipline and unity with which the country tackled the initial outbreak of Covid-19.
“The Portuguese response to the global coronavirus outbreak has, since the very beginning, been based on the best scientific advice and on other countries’ experience,” António Sales, the secretary of state for health, told the Guardian in April last year.
“It has been regularly reassessed and adapted to a very fast evolution. The country has been preparing for the worst-case scenario.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Portugal facing ‘worst moment’ of Covid crisis so far, says PM | World news