Mounting pressure on Portugal's health system could prompt further restrictions, minister says


FILE PHOTO: People cross a street at a traffic light during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Lisbon, Portugal October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's national health minister warned on Monday that the country's national health service was under grave pressure and that further restrictive measures could be coming as the number of patients in intensive care approached record levels.

"Although the Portuguese and the national health service are better prepared to respond to the pandemic than before, the situation in Portugal - as in other places - is grave," health minister Marta Temido told a news conference.

The government "is ready to cover possible new municipalities with more restrictive measures," she added.

Three municipalities in the country's North went into partial lockdown last Thursday, and non-essential travel between regions was banned from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 to reduce the risk of transmission during the All Saints national holiday.

A total of 1,672 people were in hospital as of Monday, with 240 in intensive care units (ICUs) - close to the peak of 271 reached in April.

The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, could accommodate a maximum of 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, Temido said.

Given current trends, over half that figure would be reached by next week, the minister cautioned.

Portugal has reported a total of 121,133 coronavirus cases and 2,343 deaths.

Recent numbers of new daily cases - reaching 3,669 on Saturday - have approached triple the country's previous peak in April, but testing has also multiplied by around the same proportion.

The country's toll of hospitalisations and deaths has surpassed April levels, reflecting the considerable number of new cases still being detected among higher-risk age groups, worrying health authorities. Rising hospitalisations and deaths are not linked to increased testing.

Parliament voted on Friday for masks to be compulsory in public spaces where social distancing is difficult for a period of 70 days, a measure which will soon come into law.

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