LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal said on Saturday it only had seven vacant beds left in intensive care units (ICUs) set up for COVID-19 cases on its mainland, as a surge in infections prompted the authorities to send some critical patients to Portuguese islands.
Health Ministry data showed that, out of 850 ICU beds allocated to COVID-19 cases on its mainland, a record 843 beds were now occupied. The nation of 10 million people has an additional 420 ICU beds for those with other ailments.
The ministry said the number of daily infections was 12,435, dipping from Thursday’s record, while there were 293 deaths.
Portugal, which has so far reported a total of 12,179 COVID-19 deaths and 711,018 cases, has the world’s highest seven-day rolling average of cases and deaths per capita, according to data tracker www.ourworldindata.org.
The Justice Ministry said on Friday its institute of forensic medicine, whose role includes handling autopsies for the police and others, had requested a refrigerator truck to preserve bodies as funeral homes were not able to take them fast enough.
An association representing funeral homes said public hospitals were also running out of refrigerated space to preserve bodies. Some hospitals have installed cold containers to ease pressure on their morgues.
With mainland beds running low, three patients needing critical care were airlifted from Lisbon to the Portuguese island of Madeira on Friday, where the health system is under less pressure.
The government has attributed the surge in infections to a decision to relax restrictions over the Christmas period, blaming the speed at which infections have spread on a new variant first detected in Britain.
Portugal’s health institute, the Ricardo Jorge, told Lusa news agency the variant was likely to account for 65% of new COVID-19 cases within three weeks. Portugal has extended a lockdown to mid-February and imposed strict travel restrictions.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony; Editing by Edmund Blair)