(This Jan. 19 story has been refiled to fix typo in the headline)
LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal is living “one of the saddest moments”, the prime minister said on Tuesday, as doctors warned of a healthcare system nearing collapse and the daily death toll from COVID-19 reached a new record high.
The country of 10 million people recorded 218 new COVID-19 fatalities, up from 167 on Monday and pushing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 9,246, health authority DGS said.
“We are certainly living one of the saddest moments, of greatest pain and suffering,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told parliament. “It is a very tough marathon.”
Portugal, which last week announced a new lockdown to curb the surge in infections and help relieve pressure on struggling hospitals, also reported on Tuesday 10,455 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 566,958.
“If (the number of infections) continues at this rate it will be very difficult to get to the end of the week without (the health system) collapsing,” said Joao Gouveia, head of the association representing Portuguese intensive care workers.
Of 672 intensive care unit (ICU) beds allocated to COVID-19 patients in public hospitals, 670 are now occupied, while the country only has in total just over 1,000 such beds for all patients, regardless of illness, health authorities said.
“In hospitals the situation is absolutely dramatic,” said Ricardo Mexia, president of the National Association of Public Health Doctors. “Public health units don’t have the capacity to cope with the volume of new infections we are seeing every day.”
Mexia said there were various reasons why the number of cases and deaths were increasing, including the government’s decision to ease measures over the Christmas period to allow people to see loved ones.
The doctors’ Union SMZC said in a statement: “Several hospitals were unable to provide oxygen with adequate pressure to patients, a problem that is likely to worsen in coming days.”
In the city of Portalegre, a hospital launched an inquiry on Tuesday into the death of an elderly man after he waited three hours inside an ambulance because the COVID-19 unit was full.
(Reporting by Lisbon Bureau; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Gareth Jones)