Portugal’s number of daily coronavirus cases rose from 10,455 to 14,647 on Wednesday, a 40 percent jump as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in infections and deaths.
The country of 10 million people, where authorities implemented a 15-day lockdown last week to fight the spread of the virus, also hit a record of 219 new deaths on Wednesday from 218 the day before, health authority DGS said.
Around 45 percent of new cases, which brought the total of infections to 581,605, were concentrated in the Lisbon region, where hospitals are quickly running out of beds for coronavirus patients.
Currently 681 coronavirus patients are in intensive care units (ICUs), above the 672 maximum allocation of ICU beds out of a total of just over 1,000, health authorities said.
“The normal capacity of the health system was already exceeded long ago,” said João Gouveia, head of the association representing Portuguese intensive care workers. “It is still not as catastrophic as it was in Italy and Spain but we are close to it.”
Portugal has already nearly doubled the number of ICU beds since the start of the pandemic, when it had just 528 critical care beds and Europe’s lowest ratio per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Right now we still have a health system that can expand,” Gouveia said, giving makeshift hospitals as examples. “But, in the case of ICUs, it is very limited due to a lack in human resources.”
As part of the new lockdown imposed on Friday, all non-essential services shut and people were urged to stay home. But the government decided to keep schools open despite heavy criticism from all sides.
Some municipalities, parents’ associations and student groups have urged the government to close schools immediately over fears of outbreaks. Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 have been rolled out on Wednesday in schools located in the worst-affected municipalities.