Coronavirus: Portugal considers German aid as hospitals face oxygen shortage

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Hospitals in Lisbon flooded with COVID-19 patients are at risk of failing to meet soaring demand for oxygen, the head of the doctors' association said on Wednesday, as the German foreign ministry said it was evaluating sending medical aid.

Portugal, facing 668,951 cases and 11,305 deaths including a record 293 on Wednesday, is struggling to handle a record post-Christmas surge, with hospitals using two-thirds of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients and military hospitals converting cafeterias into wards.

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Fifty-three patients were transferred from Lisbon's Fernando Fonseca Hospital on Tuesday night to prevent its oxygen system from collapsing.

Another 32 will be transferred on Wednesday to three other hospitals, Fernando Fonseca Hospital's chief nurse Rui Santos told a news conference - two in Lisbon and one in Portimao, a town two-and-a-half hours away.

Portugal fared better than others in the first wave but now has the world's highest seven-day average of new daily cases and deaths per million inhabitants.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said the two countries were evaluating whether Germany could send pandemic help, but no formal request had been made.

Portugal's Health Secretary Antonio Lacerda Sales said the government was looking into getting help from European partners.

The problem is not a lack of oxygen, but the fact that reservoirs cannot provide it at enough pressure to so many patients at once, Order of Doctors head Miguel Guimaraes told Observador radio.

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“What is happening in these hospitals, and particularly in Lisbon, is that their capacity has been largely overwhelmed ... It's what we call 'catastrophe medicine',” he said.

The president of Lisbon's health authority, Luis Pisco, told broadcaster RTP that hospitals were working to increase reservoir capacity and improve distribution, which should take about a fortnight.

Meanwhile the government published a limited list of political figures including the prime minister, to be prioritized for vaccinations, after the opposition criticized a plan to put all lawmakers ahead of more vulnerable groups.

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