LISBON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Portugal said it was considering the option of ordering private hospitals to treat coronavirus patients and provide beds and equipment as the country reported a record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and the most deaths in a day.
Health authority DGS said the death toll registered over the last 24 hours reached 122, bringing the total to 7,925, while new infections rose by 5,604 from Sunday to a total of 489,293 in a nation of just over 10 million people.
A new record of 567 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units, putting increasing pressure on the health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe.
Many hospitals across the country have already said they are struggling to cope with the current situation.
To ease pressure, Health Minister Marta Temido said the so-called civil requisition, which can only be decreed if there are serious concerns about the functioning of fundamental services, would include fair compensation for private hospitals.
“It is an option,” Marta Temido told reporters during a visit to a military hospital. “We will not hesitate to use this mechanism … if we are unable to overcome difficulties.”
The government last resorted to a civil requisition in 2019 when it ordered striking fuel-tanker workers back to work after fuel supplies ran low at locations including Lisbon airport.
Temido said the surge in cases and deaths was due to the government’s decision to ease restrictions around Christmas and the cold weather sweeping across the nation.
The government said on Saturday a new lockdown resembling one in March, which forced all non-essential businesses to close and most people to stay at home for six weeks, would start this week. Measures are likely to be announced on Wednesday. (Reporting by Lisbon bureau; Writing by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Nick Macfie)