Portugal recorded new daily records of COVID-19 deaths and contaminations on Wednesday, the latter jumping by nearly 50%, health authorities said, as the British variant progresses in the country.
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The number of new cases in 24 hours amounted to 14,647, against 10,455 the day before, said the Directorate General of Health in its daily report.
After crossing the threshold of 200 daily deaths on Tuesday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the country also set a new record on Wednesday, with 219 deaths.
The British variant currently represents “nearly 13%” of infections, or “some 18,000 cases,” said Secretary of State for Health, Antonio Lacerda Sales.
“It is significant,” he worried at the microphone of public television RTP.
The British variant, much more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, is of growing concern as it continues to spread around the world. It is now identified in 60 countries and territories, according to the World Health Organization.
With 70,000 new cases in the last seven days, Portugal currently ranks first in the world as a country with the highest number of contagions relative to its population, surpassed only by the British enclave of Gibraltar, according to data collected by AFP to national authorities.
After easing health restrictions during the Christmas weekend, the socialist government had to impose a second general confinement last Friday, without, however, going so far as to close schools as in last spring.
But faced with the spread of the virus, more and more epidemiologists are calling for an urgent tightening of measures, starting with the closure of schools.
“We have to listen to scientists,” pleaded the president of the National Association of School Directors, Filinto Lima. “In schools, there is a climate of fear that sets in”, he stressed to AFP.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa had explained during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday that he was keen to keep schools open to limit the “huge social cost that their closure would entail”, but he acknowledged that this might be necessary .
“If the British variant becomes dominant in our country, then yes, it is likely that we will close schools,” he warned, announcing that a campaign of antigenic tests would be launched Wednesday in schools.
Portugal is preparing to vote on Sunday, at the height of the pandemic, to elect a possible successor to the President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is seeking a second term.