By Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee
LISBON (Reuters) - The number of new daily COVID-19 deaths in Portugal fell to its lowest level in around six weeks on Monday, with infections also declining, adding to evidence that an alarming post-Christmas surge in the coronavirus pandemic is slowing.
The good news came hours after grim data showing the once-booming tourism sector suffered its worst results since the mid-1980s last year as the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns worldwide grounded flights and kept visitors away.
There were 90 more deaths from COVID-19 reported on Monday, the first daily toll below 100 since early January, while the tally of new infections was down to 1,303, the lowest level seen since late December.
Portugal has so far reported 15,411 deaths - early half of them in January alone - and 787,059 cases.
A devastating post-Christmas increase in the coronavirus pandemic began to slow earlier this month after a strict lockdown was imposed in mid-January. But an understaffed and under-resourced health service is still struggling to cope with the thousands in need of hospital care.
Portugal ramped up its coronavirus testing on Monday, mandating tests for anyone coming into contact with a positive case as well as fortnightly tests in schools, prisons, factories and construction sites in areas with high contagion rates.
A total of 2.2% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference after she received her first shot, along with Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
The country is due to receive 2.5 million vaccine doses by the end of March, Temido said, still far below the original aim of 4.4 million but up from the previous estimate of 1.9 million.
SEVERE SLUMP IN TOURISM
The National Statistics Institute said just under 4 million foreign tourists stayed in Portuguese hotels in 2020, a nearly 76% slump from a record 16.4 million in 2019. The number of overnight stays by non-residents dropped 75% to 12.3 million, its lowest level since 1984.
Tourism played a crucial role in the country's recovery from the 2010 economic and debt crisis. Total hotel revenues dropped 66% last year, partly cushioned by local tourism.
The government has said it is preparing a support package for the sector after Portugal's hotel association warned a further 100,000 jobs could be lost in 2021 if it did not receive targeted support..
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich)