Portugal takes a new step in the process of deflation on Thursday, when the threat of the third wave of the covid-19 pandemic plagues Central Europe and the degree of immunization of the population is unknown, warn experts consulted by Lusa.
“As long as there is no vaccination coverage for groups at risk of 90% to 100%, there is always a danger that there will be vacancies that can cause hospitalizations and death, because most European countries do not yet have population immunity and that means that the virus can have a pandemic spread and cause waves, ”says virologist Pedro Simas, who notes that the transformation of a pandemic spread into an endemic one is only possible by group immunity, around 60% to 70% of the population.
According to the researcher at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM), a new vacancy in Portugal would not, “in principle”, have the same impact, due to the vaccination process against covid-19 ongoing, which has focused mainly on the protection of groups at risk and those most vulnerable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, without, however, failing to demystify the idea of vacancy.
“The virus is widespread and the vacancies in different countries reflect the mitigation measures and population immunity statutes that they have, quite simply. These are not winds that progress from East to West or West to East. From the moment when the whole world is pandemic, the dynamics of the spread of the virus in each country is not dependent on the neighbor, but on the behavior of each country in terms of mitigation measures and vaccination program ”, stresses Pedro Simas.
The different rhythms of the pandemic show, above all, the position of countries like Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom to ease their restrictions at this moment, while Italy, Germany and France, for example, appear in countercyclical, with the fear of a third wave before the the increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths and new confinements.
International Health specialist Tiago Correia considers this to be a “different time in the pandemic”, with ups and downs in the expression of covid-19 on the European continent, although it recalls that this has already happened in the first and second waves. However, it refutes the idea that Portugal passed, at the beginning of the year, first than the center of Europe for a third wave.
“We cannot call a third wave what happened in January. We have experienced a second wave increase and we have solved it now. This time, it was not from West to East, because we do not live a third wave, we live a second long wave that dragged on. We are facing the beginning of a third wave in Europe and, therefore, this means that if nothing is done, it will arrive in Portugal ”, he warns.
For the professor and researcher at the Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (IHMT), the scenario of a vacancy similar to the previous two is not as likely, due to the vaccination and natural immunization by infection, which, in total , already reaches about two million people (approximately 20% of the Portuguese population), which now represents “favorable timing” for the country at this stage.
“We learned from what happened in the second wave. But, if I think it is possible for us to move, according to the risk matrix, towards ‘yellow’, I think so and with a certain naturalness ”, he mentions, in reference to the government matrix for the evaluation of the deconfinition plan. “An eventual increase to happen will be at a slower pace for four reasons: vaccination, natural immunity, political response and the climate”, he reiterates.
Tiago Correia – who recalls “what, politically, could not have been done at Christmas and was done” in Portugal – considers that Europe is ‘doomed’ to repeat these “ups and downs” in the management of the pandemic, until achieve group immunity at the continental level, as it does not have geographical characteristics conducive to a “zero case policy”, only feasible without the existence of land borders, in addition to questions of a political and social nature.
“Europe has this double condition: it is a group of many countries, with land borders, free movement and political and economic links between them; and it has inscribed in its political genetic codes the respect for individual freedoms. And these two aspects mean that in Europe there is no possibility to manage this except through ‘up and down’. What changes is the pace and intensity of the growth of the climb in the various countries ”, he explains.
Pedro Simas foresees “a transition period” for Portugal, suspended between the path to group immunity and the vaccination coverage of high-risk groups, in which it is possible to “unsettle tolerating a higher level of community dissemination”, due to the “cost very large ”of confinement to the country.
Asked further about the containment of the variants of concern of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, such as those identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, the virologist is calm in the face of the possibility of a new variant becoming dominant in Portugal – after the British variant has already gained prevalence in terms of new cases – and reinforces the perspective of a future shaped by vaccination.
“Until the end of April, with the amount of vaccines that are going to arrive in Portugal, there is no reason for us not to carry out 100% the first phase of the vaccination plan and go a little further. Therefore, I foresee very different May and June in Portugal ”, he concludes.
Tiago Correia argues that the control of virus variants by restricting borders and air traffic with the countries associated with the variants is an “almost childlike” view, even if it does not challenge the measure, since it can delay the spread in the national territory.
“You don’t control a virus in this way. We restricted access from South Africa, but there are very strong flows between South Africa and Mozambique, so, through Mozambique, there may be the entry into Portugal of the South Africa variant ”, he observes.
“There has to be a restriction on direct circulation between these countries, but in addition, it has to be recognized that this will not stop the circulation of variants and that we have to keep the genomic sequencing very sharp to understand what is happening”, he concludes Tiago Correia.
In Portugal, the covid-19 it has already caused the death of 16,845 people, among the 821,104 confirmed cases of infection, according to the most recent bulletin from the Directorate-General for Health.
A pandemic covid-19 caused at least 2,792,586 deaths worldwide, resulting from more than 127 million cases of infection, according to a report made by the French agency AFP.