By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira
LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal, initially praised for its swift response to the coronavirus pandemic, recorded a record number of COVID-19 related deaths on Monday as its hospitals struggled to cope.
The Portuguese government, facing concerns over low compliance with lockdown measures brought in last week, also introduced further rules to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus among its population of 10 million people.
Portugal posted 167 COVID-19 related deaths over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 9,028 since the pandemic began.
“After so many cases, and so many deaths, nobody can … think COVID-19 only happens to others,” Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters.
Under the new rules, those not able to work remotely will have to carry an employer declaration and people will not be allowed to travel between municipalities over the weekend.
“You see a lot of people not following (the rules) during this new lockdown,” Anabela Ribeiro, 55, said as she left a busy train station in the heart of the capital Lisbon.
“Stricter measures are needed,” Ribeiro added.
Hospitals are struggling to cope with the soaring number of infections, with Portugal now the country with the highest rolling average of new cases over the last seven days per million inhabitants, ourworldindata.org said.
Portugal also reported a record 664 coronavirus patients in intensive care, just below the 672 maximum allocation of ICU beds out of a total of just over 1,000, health authorities said.
With 6,702 new cases the cumulative tally of infections in the country has now reached 556,503.
“The impact is huge because the number of beds doesn’t increase, the walls are not expandable and health workers are not multiplying,” Antonio Pais de Lacerda, a doctor at Lisbon’s biggest hospital, Santa Maria, said.
Portugal has already nearly doubled the number of ICU beds since the start of the pandemic, when it had just 528 critical care beds and Europe’s lowest ratio per 100,000 inhabitants.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Additional reporting by Victoria Waldersee and Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Timothy Heritage and Alexander Smith)