COVID-19 pandemic starts to slow in Portugal, health chief urges patience over vaccine rollout
LISBON: Portugal's chief health officer sought on Thursday (Feb 4) to reassure people angry about vaccine delays and queue-jumping that they will get vaccinated, while the number of daily new coronavirus cases and deaths edged down.
For the past fortnight, Portugal has suffered the highest seven-day rolling average of deaths and new infections in the world, reaching peak levels in cases, deaths, hospitalisations and ICU patients at the end of January.
But just over two weeks into a nationwide lockdown, the spread of infections seemed to be slowing. The country reported 7,914 new cases on Thursday, less than half of the record 16,432 cases a week ago.
New deaths and the number of people in hospital have also fallen for the past five days, although the number of people in ICU remained high. In all, Portugal has recorded 13,482 deaths and 748,858 cases.
Like other EU countries, Portugal has been slower than Britain or the United States to roll out vaccines, with stories of people getting vaccinated ahead of their allocated slot prompting strong criticism.
"Everyone will be vaccinated - we cannot all get (a shot) on the same day. There are priorities," director of public health Graça Freitas told reporters. "People must trust the system. The system will invite everyone to be vaccinated."
Several mayors, a doctor's husband and even a priest's mother have been vaccinated in the period where only frontline health workers, care home residents and those aged over 80 were meant to be receiving a shot.
Opposition party PSD said those responsible should face criminal charges as heavy criticism came from lawmakers, unions and frustrated citizens towards queue-jumpers.
"Vaccination fraud undermines citizens' confidence in their institutions," nurse Mario Macedo wrote on Twitter. "Vaccines are scarce. Fraud can delay the goal of protecting the most vulnerable."
The head of Portugal's vaccination task force, Francisco Ramos, stepped down on Wednesday over what he acknowledged were "irregularities" in the process of selecting which workers should be vaccinated at the Red Cross Hospital where he is the chief executive.
In a country of 10.3 million people, only around 365,000 have so far received any vaccine, of whom nearly 85,000 have had a second dose.
Discontent with vaccination has reached the country's famed "pasteis de nata"' custard tarts. Over the weekend, a regional unit of ambulance service INEM said it had used leftover COVID-19 shots to vaccinate workers of a pastry shop next door to its building in the city of Porto - prompting questions over why the shots had not gone to priority workers.