Portuguese firefighters get jabs as virus deaths stay high

International

A doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a patient in a COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at the Curry Cabral hospital in Lisbon, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. A January surge of cases in Portugal has ebbed amid a lockdown, but deaths and pressure on hospitals remain high. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal started inoculating the country’s firefighters against COVID-19 on Thursday, as a January surge of cases ebbed amid a lockdown but deaths and pressure on hospitals remained high.

Portuguese firefighters, who number about 15,000, commonly operate ambulances, and they are to be vaccinated over a two-week period. Authorities are due to begin inoculating more than 40,000 police officers in coming days.

The national vaccine plan launched last month with the inoculation of health workers and staff and residents of care homes for older adults.

Health Minister Marta Temido acknowledged Thursday there had been some “stumbles” in the country’s vaccine rollout, which authorities largely blame on the late delivery of doses. Temido said the goal is still to give 70% of the population — around 7 million people — a jab by the end of September.

The seven-day average of daily deaths in Portugal is the highest in the world, at 2.05 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But the seven-day average of daily new cases has fallen from a peak of 122.37 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 27 to 47.56 per 100,000 people.

The pandemic pressure continued to ease slowly Thursday, with the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital and in intensive care falling for the third straight day, The health ministry reported the fewest hospitalizations since Jan. 20 and the fewest patients in ICUs for almost two weeks.

The Health Ministry says antigen tests are to be more widely used at schools, factories and other places where people gather as part of a new strategy to contain the pandemic.

Parliament was expected later Thursday to extend Portugal’s state of emergency decree, which allows the government to impose the current lockdown, through March 1.

Supporting a lockdown extension, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said in a letter to lawmakers that “the country’s hospital capacity is still being put to the test, even with the help of the whole public health system, the armed forces and the private sector.”

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