Portugal urged to seek international help as COVID-19 deaths hit record

Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lisbon

By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's government was urged to transfer COVID-19 patients abroad on Tuesday as deaths hit a record high and the oxygen supply system of a large hospital near Lisbon partly failed from overuse.

COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours reached a record 291, bringing the total to 653,878 cases and 11,012 deaths. It now has world's the highest seven-day average of cases and deaths per million people, according to ourworldindata.org.

A hospital in the Amadora municipality had to transfer 48 of its patients to other health units in the capital late on Tuesday as oxygen pressure was not enough for the large number of patients, it said in a statement.

"There was a need to relieve oxygen consumption so patients were transferred," said the hospital, which has nearly no empty beds left. "They were never in danger."

News reports showed ambulances rushing through the hospital's main gates to get the patients, while some left escorted by police.

Twenty patients were transferred to Lisbon's largest hospital, Santa Maria, which on Tuesday installed two fridges outside its morgue with the capacity for 30 bodies, its spokesman said.

Across Portugal's health service, 830 intensive care beds have been allocated to COVID-19 patients out of a total of 1,200, the health ministry said. Currently 765 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units.

As public hospitals struggle to cope, large military health units in Lisbon and Porto stepped in to help. The one in the capital doubled its capacity to tackle the surge. Two cafeterias have been turned into wards.

The local council in Torres Vedras, a municipality near Lisbon which is facing major coronavirus outbreaks in several care homes, urged the foreign ministry to seek international help.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told a news conference there was no need to create "alarm" about the idea of international aid but added: "We know there is the availability of friendly countries to help."

Health Minister Marta Temido told broadcaster RTP on Monday: "The Portuguese government is triggering all mechanisms available, including in the international framework, to ensure it provides the best assistance to patients."

But Temido noted that patient transfers were constrained by Portugal's location on the westernmost edge of Europe, especially as other EU nations are also under pressure.

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes; Additional reporting by Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Giles Elgood and Richard Chang)