Portugal's COVID-19 cases hit new highs, hospitals not as strained

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A health worker talks to people while they wait to do tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the day before Christmas eve in Campo Pequeno, Lisbon, Portugal, December 23, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

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LISBON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Portugal reported on Tuesday a record 17,172 new coronavirus infections, although the rate was about half the level of the worst surge at the start of the year and hospitalisations were an even smaller fraction of that.

Official data showed the fast-spreading Omicron variant already represented 61.5% of all new cases in the country, which has one of the world's highest COVID-19 vaccination rates with around 87% of its 10-million population fully inoculated.

The 14-day infection rate was unchanged from Monday at 804 cases per 100,000 people, way below a record 1,668 cases on Jan. 31.

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In the last 24 hours 19 more people have died of COVID-19, bringing the total to 18,909. On Jan. 28, the day with the worst toll, 303 people died in Portugal.

Although primary care centres complained of being overwhelmed by long queues of people with mostly mild symptoms, hospitalisations lagged far behind early 2021 levels.

Hospitals had 936 patients with COVID-19 compared with a peak of 6,869 on Feb. 1. That included 152 people in intensive care, or about 16% of the country's ICU capacity, which in early February was practically depleted.

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Reporting by Patricia Vicente Rua and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Richard Chang

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