LISBON (Reuters) – Confirmed coronavirus cases in Portugal pushed past the 200,000 mark on Friday as the number of new daily infections reached a record high, putting increasing pressure on an already fragile health system.
A nationwide state of emergency to combat the spread of the virus came into force on Monday and is due to last until Nov. 23, but it is likely to be extended.
“When we reach the peak of the disease it will take weeks to see a drop in demand for hospitals and even more weeks to reduce the fatality count,” Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference.
The country of just over 10 million people has recorded a comparatively low 204,664 cases and 3,250 deaths but infections hit 6,653 cases on Saturday, the highest daily figure since the pandemic started. Testing has also increased.
Most of the cases were concentrated in the northern region.
A new record of 2,799 COVID-19 patients are now in hospital, with 388 in intensive care units (ICUs) – more than the first wave peak of 271 in April.
The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, can accommodate 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs.
Though number of cases are quickly increasing, Temido said the virus reproduction rate – dubbed ‘R’ – stood at 1.11, compared to 1.26 last month.
As part of the emergency measures, residents in nearly 200 of Portugal’s 308 municipalities must stay home between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. every night and over the next two weekends a lockdown is in place from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m..
“The situation is serious and more critical than what we experienced in the first wave of the pandemic,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday evening. “The rule is simple: We have to stay at home.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Toby Chopra)