Portugal gets more European help as virus deaths remain high

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — France and Luxembourg are joining Germany in sending medical staff to help at hospitals in Portugal, where deaths from COVID-19 remain the highest in the world by size of population.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said Friday it’s extending by six weeks — into April — the deployment of military doctors, nurses and other personnel to a civilian hospital in Lisbon.

A team of eight German military doctors and 18 nurses and hygiene specialists arrived in Lisbon on Feb. 3 for an initial three-week deployment as part of a cooperation program between European Union countries.

France is sending a doctor and three nurses, while Luxembourg is providing two doctors and two nurses, the Portuguese health ministry said in a statement. They should arrive next week.

Portugal became the world’s worst-hit country in the pandemic last month after a Christmas easing of rules on movements and gatherings coincided with the appearance of a fast-spreading virus variant first identified in England.

Amid a lockdown, the number of new officially confirmed cases has been falling since the end of January. As at Feb. 10, almost 30,000 new cases had been officially reported over the previous seven days — the lowest number since December, the National Statistics Agency, a government-funded body, said in a report Friday.

But hospitals and intensive care units remain under severe strain. Portugal’s seven-day average of daily deaths remained the world’s highest, at 1.97 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University

Some health experts have rebuked the government for not responding more quickly to virus developments and have accused political leaders of poor planning.

The health ministry is now expanding its testing effort to include anyone who has had contact with an infected person.

Also, in areas with large outbreaks antigen tests will be given every two weeks at schools, prisons, factories and construction sites.

The goal of Portugal’s national vaccination plan is to administer jabs to 70% of the population — roughly 7 million people — by the end of September.

Just over 436,000 people have received jabs so far, with about 133,000 of them having had two doses.

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