By Catarina Demony and Michael Nienaber
LISBON (Reuters) -A German military plane carrying over 20 doctors and nurses together with ventilators and hospital beds arrived on Wednesday in coronavirus-stricken Portugal, where a severe rise in cases has prompted several European nations to offer help.
The German team will manage a new unit of eight ICU beds in a private hospital in Lisbon, Hospital da Luz, which was equipped but lacked the staff to operate, Health Minister Marta Temido said at the military base where the plane landed.
"Eight beds may not sound like much, but it is a lot for a health system under significant pressure," Temido said."The help Germany extended is of great use for a health system facing the challenges we are - highly specialised health professionals."
The medical team, consisting of eight doctors and 18 nurses, left the military base in northern Lisbon by bus shortly after arrival. The cargo, which includes 150 hospital beds and 50 ventilators, was unloaded after their departure.
"This is a vivid sign of European solidarity and a symbol of hope," German ambassador Martin Ney told reporters at the military base.
Austria has offered to take in 10 to 15 COVID-19 intensive care patients who would be distributed in various hospitals across the country, its ambassador in Portugal, Robert Zischg, told Reuters.
The two countries' health and defence ministries were in regular contact and it was up to Portugal to decide whether it would accept the offer, he said.
Hospitals across Portugal, a nation of about 10 million people, appear on the verge of collapse, with ambulances sometimes queuing for hours because of a lack of beds while some health units are struggling to find enough refrigerated space to preserve the bodies of the deceased.
Although daily infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the country on Tuesday retreated further from last week's records and fewer patients were in intensive care, doctors and nurses are still over-stretched.
The island of Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal which took in three COVID-19 intensive care patients last Friday, will also take in another three, its regional government told news agency Lusa.
Portugal, which has so far reported a total of 13,017 COVID-19 deaths and 731,861 cases, reported close to half of all its COVID-19 deaths last month as cases accelerated.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon; editing by Emma Thomasson and Angus MacSwan)