Meeting Started 10.00hrs – Live updates
The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the Prime Minister, António Costa, the President of the Assembly of the Republic, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, and party representatives met today at 10.00 hrs with experts on the evolution of the pandemic in Portugal and new rules to be adopted in the summer, at a meeting at Infarmed, in Lisbon.
This is the first meeting between politicians and experts since the state of emergency ended on April 30.
Among the various presentations are one dedicated to the “Updating of the Red Lines Reference”, by Andreia Leite, from the National School of Public Health of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, the presentation of the “Plan for the Reduction of Restrictive Control Measures of covid-19” , by Raquel Duarte, from ARS Norte and the Public Health Institute of the University of Porto – a study requested by the Government rules to be applied in the future to contain covid-19, but with the vaccination program already in an advanced stage.
André Peralta Santos, from DGS, is the first specialist to take the floor. He considers that there is “a slight upward trend” in the incidence of the virus during the last week. In Lisbon, it already exceeds 120 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants.
In Lisbon, parishes in the centre of the municipality have the highest incidence, with more than 240 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants. Growth is reaching other parishes in the capital and the surrounding area.
The most affected age group is that of “young adults”, namely from 20 to 29 years old. The group over 80 “keeps the downward trend”.
Hospitalizations maintain “a downward trend”, albeit at a “slower pace”. The age group with the most hospitalized patients is 40 to 59, an “expected” phenomenon due to the vaccination of older groups.
The numbers of hospitalizations in the wards are “quite low,” said Peralta Santos. In intensive care there is also a “downward trend” compared to March 15. Mortality remains “at very low levels”, now in the three deaths per million inhabitants.
“In previous weeks the testing intensity was higher”, but it continues “at a good pace”. 270,000 tests were done in one week. Of these, 75% are rapid tests. Positivity has increased “slightly” in recent weeks, but remains “well below” the 4% reference value.
This is followed by the presentation of Baltazar Nunes, from the National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge. (10.22 hrs)
According to the expert, since mid-March, the incidence has been “constant”, despite small fluctuations. The value of R is now at 1.07. The daily value of R is at 1.11.
The Algarve and the North have transmission rates below 1, unlike what happens in Lisbon. If the R continues to grow in Lisbon and Alentejo, within two weeks, there will be more than 120 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants in these regions.
There is a process of increasing mobility in Europe. Portugal is among the countries with the lowest mobility reduction, keeping the incidence levels low.
The effectiveness of the Covid vaccine in people aged 80 and over was 80%. “These are very good values”, he guaranteed.
The results suggest a “controlled” epidemiological activity. “It is necessary to maintain the increase in testing and family bubbles”, stressed Baltazar Nunes. For immunity to become real, a month must pass since the first dose , he added.
Variants (10.37 hrs)
João Paulo Gomes, from INSA, stated that the British variant already represents 87.2% of the total cases in Portugal. The one in Manaus (Brazil) fell from 4.3% in April to 3% in May, “and it should remain so”.
The South African variant is at 1.9% in May and the Indian is now at 4.6%, with no case detected a month ago. Cases of this variant in nine districts of 13 counties.
Currently, there are 37 cases registered with this variant, and the estimate is that the real total is around 160. “It is expected” that “there is already community transmission” of this variant, warned João Paulo Gomes.
The virus is adapting to an increasingly immunized population,” said the expert, warning of the appearance of mutations “that somehow manage to deceive our immune system” and “cause some infections”.
This is followed by the Presentation of Henrique Barros, from the Public Health Institute of the University of Porto. (10.49 hrs) with the study “From acute infection to chronic consequences”.
The expert points out that, in terms of incidence, the values are now slightly higher in the North and in Lisbon compared to the same period in the previous year.
The difference, says Henrique Barros, is in the older age group, now more protected.
Hospitalizations are much lower , which reflects “the learning” done over these 15 months of the pandemic.
In children up to the age of 10 and in the age group of 80, positivity fell sharply compared to the previous year.
The specialist also pointed out that, now, “the probability of dying has dropped dramatically”: it became 1 in 5 infected people and went to “1 in 20 infected people”.
Viruses have become endemic”
The infection has become “endemic”, at least socially, he argued. “The infection circulates much less, but you have to be careful,” he added.
Within a year, the fear of being infected and anxiety about the pandemic have dropped significantly, revealing that the Portuguese population is learning to live with the coronavirus.
Carla Nunes, from Universidade Nova de Lisboa (11.12 hrs)
She said that, in the last week, Lisbon had 3 times more cases than what was expected.
The behaviour of the Portuguese have “had significant changes, in line with the lack of definition”. The study released by Carla Nunes found that 16.2% of respondents said they had already been in groups of 10 or more people, compared to 1.8% on February 19.
According to the same study, there is a “clear recovery” of confidence in health services. Only 14.1% of respondents remain little or not confident in the treatment of covid-19, against 32.7% in February.
To change the risk matrix or not? (11.30 hrs)
Andreia Leite, from the National School of Public Health at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, spoke about the update of the red lines.
The analysis is done through the cumulative incidence and the transmissibility rate , allowing to understand if the epidemic situation is controlled or not. It is called the risk matrix.
With vaccination progressing, explains Andreia Leite, it is questionable whether it makes sense to update this framework.
“Incidence and Rt should remain the main indicators”
The official argues that there are several unknowns regarding vaccination, namely regarding the duration of immunity.
For Andreia Leite, at this stage, it is important to continue looking at the incidence as it is the indicator that allows us to act in a timely manner. “It allows us to meet international criteria, to understand if the measurement of measures has effects and to identify if there is any change in the characteristics of the virus”.
Experts continue to propose the maintenance of the current set of indicators, stressing the importance of incidence and Rt as “main indicators”, she said.
(1142 hrs) Raquel Duarte, from the University of Porto, said it was “almost unanimous” among the experts to “maintain the obligation to maintain individual protection measures”. The use of the mask continues to be encouraged, “especially in closed environments”. She also called for testing to be maintained at relevant levels and for “effective ventilation” to be carried out in the interior spaces.
The specialist said that it is necessary to go back “in the imposing character” of the measures, betting on a more pedagogical approach. The reason is that the improvement in the pandemic situation inevitably generates a greater willingness for the population to take to the streets.
Like João Paulo Gomes, Raquel Duarte also wants to watch the borders and “restrict” travel to and from countries with a significant impact of new variants.
Raquel Duarte proposes the creation of three new levels of restrictions – A, B and C -, in addition to the existing ones. At level C, the capacity of restaurants must be limited to 25%, changing to 50% at B. Level A is the least restrictive and will only require compliance with general protection measures.
As for family life, the specialist proposes to lift restrictions on levels B and A, while maintaining the risk assessment taking into account criteria such as age.
5.2 million vaccines administered
This is followed by Henrique Gouveia e Melo, coordinator of the Task Force for the Vaccination Plan.
According to the official, in the second quarter of the year 1.5 million vaccines will arrive in Portugal.
Until Thursday, 5.2 million vaccines were given : 3.5 million first doses and 1.8 million second doses.
If everything goes according to plan, he advanced, on the 6th of June, the 40-year-old age group will start vaccinating and, in the last week of June, the 30-year-old .
By the end of this week, more than 85% of people aged 60 to 69 will be vaccinated and about 40% of those aged 50 to 59.
Henrique Gouveia e Melo says he has two concerns: maintaining the rate of vaccination and ensuring that geographically isolated communities have all the necessary health care.
“I am concerned about some grants for the elderly who, in this process, are left behind”, he said, also showing concern for the bedridden, the hospitalized people and those with comorbidities.
The President of the Republic regretted the “absence of any reference” to the possible “correlation” and “causality” between the incidence of the virus in the younger age groups and hospitalizations.
President of the Republic
The President of the Republic addressed the issue of “public legitimation of the health indicators and criteria adopted.” Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said that it was “evident” that when the pandemic situation was serious, human life must take priority over the economy; however , given the improvement that the country has been registering, “it starts to be less evident”, in the eyes of the population, that the “sacrifice” of the economic and social aspect continues to exist”.
The head of state also regretted the “absence of any reference” to the possible “correlation” and “causality” between the incidence of the virus in the younger age groups and hospitalizations. “I have not seen any analysis of the connection that exists or not between the increase in cases and pressure in the NHS,” he added.
The president also expressed his “difficulty in seeing the immediate weight” of the virus variants in Portugal, although he acknowledged that borders must continue to be controlled. Marcelo also stressed the need to explain the importance of vaccination to the younger strata of society.