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Healthcare & PharmaceuticalsObey rules, PM warns, as Portugal turns corner in tough COVID-19 battle

Catarina Demony
2 minutes read

Passengers wearing protective face masks walk at Lisbon's airport during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lisbon, Portugal June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

Portugal had its fewest COVID-19 patients in hospital in four months on Tuesday, data showed, as its prime minister warned that enforcing lockdown curbs remained essential in a country that topped global death rates a month ago.

For several weeks in January, Portugal's health service stood on the brink of collapse as it recorded the world's worst surge in coronavirus infections and fatalities per capita.

But a nationwide lockdown put in place on Jan. 15 has rapidly brought those figures down, and the 38 deaths and 691 new cases recorded on Tuesday were back on a par with averages logged in October, when businesses were still open.

Health authority DGS said 1,997 were receiving treatment for COVID-19 in non-ICU hospital wards, the lowest since Oct. 31 and a sharp drop from the 6,869 hospitalised at the beginning of February.

There were 446 intensive care patients, down 23 from Monday, it said.

According to online publication Our World In Data, the combined total of hospitalisations was the lowest since Nov. 1.

Standing outside a Lisbon hospital, Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged people to continue to comply with restrictions to allow for the lockdown to be gradually lifted.

"The idea that a tragedy doesn't repeat itself is false," Costa said. "It can happen again if human beings repeat the same behaviours."

Portuguese officials blamed the January jump on the more contagious variant of the disease first detected in Britain, acknowledging that a relaxation of restrictions on movement over Christmas also played a role.

"We cannot make those mistakes again," Costa said.

Plans to slowly ease the lockdown are expected to be announced on March 11.

"There are more people who have been vaccinated than those infected and that should make us look to the future with renewed hope," Health Minister Marta Temido said.

Out of a population of just over 10 million, 885,109 have received at least one vaccine dose.

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