LISBON (Reuters) - Military doctors and nurses sent from Germany to help Portugal, where hospitals have been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, are there to save as many lives as possible and will stay as long as needed, the team's chief doctor said.
"When we are out in the streets everyone recognises us as German soldiers ... everyone gives us a thumbs up," Jens-Peter Evers told a news conference on Monday in Hospital da Luz, the private hospital where his team is stationed.
"Sometimes we feel like rock stars but we only have one aim: save lives," he said.
Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million, is facing its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, with COVID-19 cases and deaths totalling 767,919 and 14,354 respectively.
While daily infections began falling a week ago as the effect of a lockdown kicked in, the country ranks fourth worldwide for its seven-day rolling average of new cases per capita and remains first for deaths, according to ourworldindata.org.
The team of eight German doctors and 18 nurses got to work on Monday staffing an intensive care unit at the hospital. They will remain there for at least three weeks, and then be substituted by another team until the end of March.
"I gave my government the information... (that) we should run the ICU for longer than three weeks," Evers said. "From my personal view, it is absolutely necessary that we stay here as long as possible."
Germany is one of four countries offering assistance to Portugal, alongside Spain, Austria and Luxembourg. Health Minister Marta Temido said talks with countries offering aid were continuing.
"We thank all the help that has been offered ... but we want it to be a last resort," said ICU response chief Joao Gouveia. "I am convinced that with the response we have managed to assemble, it will not be necessary."
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira; Additional reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Janet Lawrence)