Meeting of experts at Infarmed Tuesday 12th January 2021

Experts and government officials meet at Infarmed for a new meeting to assess the epidemiological situation in Portugal

The Minister of Health opened the meeting at 1030 hrs, which will have nine presentations, more than usual.

Agenda

Marta Temido has already started her speech, making a presentation of the agenda, which will last until 1 pm. The planned presentations are  are:

Epidemiological situation in the country

André Peralta Santos – Directorate-General for Health

Epidemiological situation in ARS Norte

Óscar Felgueiras – Faculty of Sciences, University of Porto (Videoconference)

Epidemiological situation in ARS LVT

Duarte Tavares from the Public Health Department of ARSLVT

Evolution of incidence and transmissibility

Baltazar Nunes – National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge

Surveillance of genetic variants of the new coronavirus in Portugal

João Paulo Gomes – Dr. Ricardo Jorge National Health Institute

Short-term projections for the epidemic

Manuel do Carmo Gomes – Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon

Covid-19: Risk, long-term prognosis and expectations

Henrique de Barros – Institute of Public Health, University of Porto (Videoconference

Social perceptions about Covid-19

Carla Nunes – National School of Public Health at Universidade Nova de Lisboa

State of play of the vaccination plan against covid-19

Francisco Ramos – Coordinator of the Task Force for the Vaccination Plan against covid-19 in Portugal

 

STATISTICS AND TRENDS

According to data presented by André Peralta Santos, responsible for the statistics department of the Directorate-General for Health, Portugal now has 871 new cases per 100 thousand inhabitants in 14 days.

It is a “historic maximum” since the beginning of the covid-19 epidemic in the country, already above the 765 new cases per 100 thousand inhabitants registered around 25 November, at the peak of the second wave.

After the decrease in the incidence of cases that began in late November in the North, Christmas marked the beginning of a new upward curve of contagions, describes the mathematician from the University of Porto, Óscar Felgueiras. “Until the 26th of December, only 9% of the population in the northern region was in municipalities with the highest incidence. In the last week, this incidence of new cases suddenly jumped to 40% in 14 days.”

Currently, the entire northern region is experiencing high growth levels (over 30% in much of the territory) and at an accelerated rate.

Transmission speed of the virus was reversed at Christmas: R (t) is at 1.22. Before December 25th it was 0.98.

It is “a high value” that reflects the situation across the country, says Baltazar Nunes, from the National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge. More about R (t) in Portugal here

 

The reduction of cases will be, stresses Baltazar Nunes, “naturally” smaller than if the educational institutions closed. The expert says that with confinement measures, keeping schools open, the covid’s transmission speed will decrease.

By measuring citizens’ mobility, Baltazar Nunes said, weekend containment measures reduced the incidence of cases and hospitalizations.

 

João Paulo Gomes, from the National Health Institute dr. Ricardo Jorge, said that the variant coming from the United Kingdom has “increased its frequency”.

Manuel Carmo Gomes estimates that if the 6.5% daily percentage increase registered on 8 January remains, “every 11 days we will double the cases”. In this scenario, on January 19, we will have 18600 cases and, on the 27th, these will rise to 37,200.

Even with the same confinement as in March, “we will hardly avoid the 14,000 cases” per day, which will happen in about two weeks. Lowering this number by half will take approximately three weeks, and then reaching the 3 500 will take the same time.

“We are facing the most difficult weeks of this pandemic,” said Carmo Gomes. However, he believes that, after that period, the situation “can only improve”.

Approximately 5000 cases were not detected during Christmas week. These are the people who caused the “acute situation” in the country after December 25, says Manuel do Carmo Gomes.
Manuel do Carmo Gomes, from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, said that since January 11th, there has been a rise in cases that was already foreseen.

In the week of Christmas, an unusual phenomenon occurred: there were fewer positive tests, but the incidence went up. That is, there are cases that “will have escaped” testing. This is “one of the explanations” for the “very abnormal” rise in cases after this festival.

João Paulo Gomes, said that the variant coming from the United Kingdom has “increased its frequency”. It is more contagious, but “there is no evidence” that it affects young people more.

Between January 4 and 10, the percentage of new infected people who may have contracted the new variant was up to 8%. The expert said, however, that the weight of this strain in the country “is still modest”.

 

Without new restrictions, there would be an increase of 23% in the number of cases, 7% in the number of deaths and 20% in hospitalizations, says Henrique de Barros, from the Public Health Institute of the University of Porto. “This is the worst case scenario”, if we continued to “live like Christmas”

Since the period when they were considered cured, 60% of patients with covid have maintained health problems: depression, headache, dizziness, palpitations and loss of smell and taste, revealed the specialist from U. Porto.

And 30% of patients have symptoms beyond 9 months. “This makes covid a chronic disease.” And “there are practically no differences between who was admitted and who was not.” “It is necessary to keep these thousands of people under observation”, he adds.

 

The coordinator of the working group for the vaccination plan against covid-19, Francisco Ramos, revealed that, until this Monday, Portugal received about 160 thousand doses of the vaccine. There were 67,160 doses distributed and 74,099 people inoculated between December 26 and January 8.

Francisco Ramos highlighted the difference between inoculation and vaccination, pointing out that there is still no person vaccinated in Portugal because the vaccine only takes effect after the second dose.

Of the inoculated people, about 55 thousand are health professionals and 7500 are home users.

“At the end of February, we will be able to finish the vaccination of employees of homes and hospitalized in intensive care”, guaranteed Francisco Ramos.

“So far, the big problem is the lack of available vaccines,” said Francisco Ramos. The coordinator of the working group for the vaccination plan said that, between February and March, Portugal expects to receive around 1.4 million doses of vaccines, should the European Union approve the Astra / Zeneca vaccine.

However, it is “unlikely” that the country will be able to start vaccinating citizens of the second priority group before the end of the first quarter.

 

Carla Nunes, from the National School of Public Health at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, revealed that the segments of the population that have reported feeling worse in terms of global health status are women, older people and less educated citizens.

As for the perception of risk, those who showed the highest rates were men, young people and people with low education.

About 60% of respondents in the study prepared by the specialist admitted that they had not always used a mask the last time they were in contact with a group of 10 or more people. In November, this figure was 25%

Carla Nunes revealed that 64% of respondents in the study are little or not confident about the health services’ ability to respond to non-covid diseases.

Regarding the perception of the measures implemented by the Government, about 40% considered them to be little or not adequate – even better than at the end of November. With this opinion, men, young people and less educated citizens predominate.

The same study indicates that 65.8% of respondents intend to have a vaccine as soon as it is available. Only 3.2% say they do not want to be vaccinated, against about 10% in November.

In all, 15.9% of respondents are little or not at all confident about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

 

The questioning of experts, which will be held in camera, began at 1230 hrs.


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