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Pandemic brings Portugal’s health system to its knees

Amid concerns over low compliance with lockdown rules, Portuguese hospitals are scrambling to cope with a worrying surge in coronavirus infections and deaths that brought the country’s health care system to its knees.

“This hospital, like all others, is making a huge effort to have these patients but it gets to a point that there is no more capacity. There really isn’t. We need to continue to treat other patients too,” Antonio Pais de Lacerda, a doctor at Lisbon’s biggest hospital Santa Maria, told Reuters on Monday (January 18).

Only five of Santa Maria’s 48 intensive care unit (ICUs) beds allocated to coronavirus patients are available, according to a spokesman.

The same is happening across the nation, where a 15-day nationwide lockdown came into force on Friday (January 15).

Portugal had the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe per million inhabitants over the last seven days, according to ourworldindata.org website.

“The impact is huge because the number of beds doesn’t increase, the walls are not expandable and health workers are not multiplying.” Lacerda, said.

The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, can accommodate a maximum of 672 COVID-19 patients in ICUs. The number of people in ICUs with COVID-19 reached 647 on Sunday.

The country of just 10 million people reported 10,385 new cases and 152 fatalities on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections to 549,801, with the death toll increasing to 8,861.

As hospitals reached their limit, Lisbon’s streets were busier than expected on Monday morning, with authorities warning many were not complying with the measures, such as the mandatory rule to work from home.

“You see a lot of people not following (the rules) during this new lockdown,” Anabela Ribeiro, 55, said as she walked out a busy train station in the heart of the capital.

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