According to a report by ECO, with cases of infection soaring, laboratories do not have the means to respond to the avalanche of Covid/19 test appointments. The experts heard by the ECO warn that the situation “is not sustainable” and admit that the “saturation of the testing system” is leading to cases that are not being reported. In addition, they propose changes to the testing strategy when the country enters the endemic phase.

Over the past few days, Portugal has beaten successive records for Covid-19 infections, although the consequences in terms of pressure on the SNS (hospital admissions, intensive care units) and lethality are much lower than those recorded in January last year. However, projections point to the fact that over the next few days the numbers of infections will continue to rise.

The Ordem dos Médicos and Instituto Superior Técnico estimate that the “peak” of infections of this fifth wave will be reached between 20 January and 24 January, and the number of daily infections may exceed 50,000 cases, as happened this Wednesday.

In addition, “it is expected that during January”, the lethality will not exceed “about 40 deaths, more or less five, by Covid-19 in an average of 7 days”, Miguel Guimarães, chairman of the Ordem dos Médicos, told ECO.

Faced with the “avalanche” of cases, the chairman warns that Portugal may be facing “saturation of the testing system”, given that “there is no capacity to test any more”. There are “many people who end up not having symptoms, but have had a risky contact, or who have mild symptoms, but who do not have the opportunity to take a test quickly and, therefore, are no longer doing tests”, he warned.

“Portugal has had a very interesting laboratory response at the expense of private supply, which is not sustainable over time and has been at its maximum capacity”, says Gustavo Tato Borges, president of the National Association of Public Health Physicians (ANMSP) , to the ECO, adding that this “is an effort that will probably stop making sense soon”.

This is the case with Unilabs, which, during the first days of January, performed “an average of 14,000 PCR tests per day and an average of 10,000 antigen tests per day”, with its capacity “around 15,500 tests per day, with the laboratory operating 24 hours a day”, revealed an official source of the laboratory to ECO. Thus, and in order to increase testing capacity, as of this week Unilabs will have “new equipment” that will allow it to carry out “an additional 4,000 PCR tests per day, increasing to 20,000 PCR tests per day, if necessary ”.

In this sense, the two experts consider that this “effort” of mass testing may “fail to make sense soon”, suggesting a change to the testing strategy when the country enters the endemic phase. “Once the situation calms down, obviously then I think a change should be made and the tests should be done differently and they will no longer be done in the massive way they are being done” , said Miguel Guimarães, noting that some countries are already “stopping PCR” on a massive scale and starting to use rapid antigen tests.