Portugal poised to extend lockdown as COVID-19 cases fall

World

A woman stands at a viewpoint overlooking Lisbon’s old center, a site popular with tourists and now mostly deserted, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Hopes are rising in Portugal that the worst of a devastating pandemic surge might be over, as the number of COVID-19 deaths reported Monday was the lowest in three weeks. Still, the national lockdown could remain in place through mid-March, officials have said. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s COVID-19 infection rate has dropped sharply after a lockdown aimed at addressing a devastating January pandemic surge, but it is still recording the most daily deaths in the world by size of population, health experts said Tuesday.

Portugal hit a peak of cases on Jan. 29, with a 14-day average of almost 1,700 cases per 100,000 habitants.

Amid a lockdown, that rate has fallen to around 980 per 100,000 — a marked improvement but still one of the European Union’s highest rates.

But Portugal’s seven-day rolling average of daily deaths stands at 2.24 per 100,000 — significantly above other countries, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Portugal is one of the EU’s smaller countries, with a population of about 10.3 million.

Portugal’s president, prime minister and other senior officials held a televised meeting with health experts to consider whether a lockdown introduced in mid-January should be extended beyond this weekend. The lockdown is widely expected to stay in place for at least two more weeks.

Portugal’s “R” number, indicating the number of people an infected person passes the virus to, has dropped from 1.24 on Jan. 4 to 0.78 on Feb. 3, data shows.

A study suggested that sticking with the lockdown, and keeping schools closed, through the end of March would bring down the number of COVID-19 intensive care unit patients to around 300. There are currently almost 900 in ICUs, which are under severe strain.

Experts noted, however, that it could take weeks before a reduction in the number of infections lowers the number of hospitalizations.

Portugal has officially recorded almost 768,000 cases of COVID-19 and attributed more than 14,300 deaths to the coronavirus.

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