LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal reported close to half of all its COVID-19 deaths in January, highlighting a severe acceleration in cases that has prompted several European nations to offer help.
Hospitals across the nation of a little more than 10 million appear on the verge of collapse, with ambulances sometimes queuing for hours because of a lack of beds while some health units are struggling to find enough refrigerated space to preserve the bodies of the deceased.
Austria is willing to take intensive-care patients and is waiting for Portuguese authorities to propose how many they want to transfer, the Austrian embassy in Lisbon said.
Germany will send medical staff and equipment, with a plane carrying 26 doctors, nurses and hygiene experts, as well as 40 mobile and 10 stationary ventilators. The flight is due to leave for Lisbon on Wednesday.
Hard-hit neighbour Spain has offered help, too, but Portugal has yet to accept, a Spanish foreign ministry source told Reuters.
Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told LaSexta TV that the two countries were in “direct contact every day, at all levels”.
Portugal’s 5,576 COVID-19 fatalities in January represent 44.7% of the 12,482 registered since the start of the pandemic.
Portuguese officials have blamed the huge increase in infection and death rates on the more contagious variant of the disease first detected in Britain, while acknowledging that a relaxation of restrictions on movement over the Christmas holidays also played a role.
More than 711,000 infections have been reported since March 2020, with 43% of those in January, according to health authority DGS. On Monday, it reported 5,805 cases, with 275 deaths.
Portugal has the world’s highest seven-day rolling average of new daily cases per million inhabitants, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.
“We are confident the lockdown will have its (positive) effects,” Health Secretary Antonio Sales told reporters. Though case numbers are still on the rise, Sales said that the virus reproduction rate is now falling.
“We know we still have a tough two weeks ahead,” he added.
With 865 coronavirus patients in intensive care and 6,869 in hospital wards, hospitals are running out of beds and there is a shortage of doctors and nurses.
For most, vaccination against the virus is the light at the end of the tunnel. But so far only about 70,000 people have been fully vaccinated with the two required doses.
Reporting by Sergio Goncalves, Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee; Additional reporting by Belen Carreno and Emma Pinedo Gonzalez in Madrid and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Bernadette Baum and David Goodman
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.