Hopes rise in Portugal but COVID-19 still slams hospitals

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Doctor Jens Peter Evers, left, leader of German military medical team and Doctor Joao Gouveia, right, head of the committee monitoring Portugal's intensive care response to the pandemic, look at a live video image of German doctor Katrin Thinns speaking from inside an ICU manned by German military doctors at the Luz hospital in Lisbon, during a news conference Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON – Hopes are rising in Portugal that the worst of a devastating pandemic surge might be over, as the number of COVID-19 deaths reported Monday was the lowest in three weeks.

The country’s pandemic picture is mixed, however, as hospital admissions rose for the first time in a week. Still, the spread of COVID-19 in the small European Union country has by some metrics been slowing since the end of January.

“I’m a bit more optimistic,” said Dr. Joao Gouveia, who heads a government committee monitoring the intensive care response, citing lower infection rates and fewer hospital admissions.

But he added: “I’m still very worried ... We can't get carried away.”

Gouveia spoke at a press conference to explain the work of 26 German army medics who last week flew to Lisbon to help out in an intensive care unit.

Col. Jens-Peter Evers, head of the German team, said they had been warmly welcomed by people in the street.

“Sometimes we feel like rock stars,” he said, “but we are here to help.”

Portugal became the world’s worst-hit country last month, with a deluge of new daily virus deaths and cases engulfing the public health system. Data collated by Johns Hopkins University on Monday showed Portugal was still recording the most daily deaths per 100,000 people and had the world’s fourth-highest rate of new cases.