LISBON - Portugal reported close to half of all its COVID-19 deaths in January, highlighting the severe worsening of the pandemic in a country that had largely been spared by the first waves of the coronavirus.
Hospitals across the nation of just over 10 million appear on the verge of collapse, with ambulances queuing sometimes for hours for lack of beds and some health units struggling to find enough refrigerated space to preserve bodies.
Officials have blamed the huge increase in the infection and death rates on the more contagious British variant of the disease, and also acknowledged that a relaxation of restrictions on social contact over the Christmas holidays played a role.
In January, a total of 5,576 people died from the coronavirus, representing 44.7% of all 12,482 fatalities since the virus started to spread in the Iberian country in March last year, data from health authority DGS showed.
The association representing funeral homes warned that public hospitals were running out of refrigerated space to preserve bodies of COVI-19 victims, and some, including Portugal's largest hospital Santa Maria, have installed extra cold containers to ease pressure on their morgues.
A total of 711,018 infections have been reported since March 2020, with 43% of those infections in January, according to DGS.
Portugal has the world's highest seven-day rolling average of new daily cases per million inhabitants, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.
For most, vaccination against the virus is the light at the end of the tunnel. But only roughly 70,000 people have been fully vaccinated with the two doses so far. Those over 80 start getting their shots on Monday.
With a total of 858 people with COVID-19 in intensive care units and 6,694 in hospital wards, Portuguese hospitals are running out of beds and there is a shortage of doctors and nurses.
Portugal has 850 ICU beds allocated to COVID-19 cases in its public health mainland system and an additional 420 for those with other ailments, according to the latest data.