Portugal sets records in one of world's worst virus surges
Portugal's new daily COVID-19 cases jumped by more than 14,600 to set a new national record on Wednesday, as the country weathers one of the worst pandemic surges in the world. Health authorities officially reported 14,647 new infections, about 3,600 more than the previous daily record set four days ago. The government and health experts predict that the surge will peak next week.
Why have the cases surged in Portugal?
The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospitals and intensive care also rose to new record highs, with 5,493 and 681, respectively. The pandemic has gained momentum in Portugal since Christmas when restrictions on gatherings and movement were eased for four days. Overall, the country of 10.3 million people has 581,605 confirmed cases and 9,465 confirmed deaths.
Portugal has the second-highest rate of new deaths
Portugal has the highest seven-day average rate in the world of new cases per 100,000 population and the second-highest rate of new deaths, according to data collated through Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University. The surge is pushing the public health system, especially hospitals, to the limit of its capacity, and the government is scrambling to keep pace.
The health system is at the edge of collapse
The Assistant Secretary of State for Health, Antonio Lacerda Sales, said the system is at full stretch. "We are doing everything in our power to increase the system's capacity," he told reporters. A field hospital with 58 beds was due to open later on Wednesday in the capital, on the grounds of the Lisbon University campus.
Temporary medical installations to open to relieve pressure on hospitals
To further relieve pressure on hospitals, authorities are opening more temporary medical installations at sites outside the health sector. The government said facilities in such places as hotels, university residences, and church premises will soon have 2,300 beds where patients can be kept under observation. Meanwhile, authorities launched a program of rapid COVID-19 tests at schools in the hardest-hit areas of the country.
Portugal Government reluctant to close schools
However, Portugal's government is reluctant to close schools despite being in lockdown. It says that there are students who depend on the schools for proper meals, computer, internet, and studies, which they won't get if the schools are closed. Some teachers who are unhappy about the policy are pressing for national school closure.