It’s been enough time since my last update on the COVID-19 pandemic to get a decent feeling of how things were progressing, and it’s clearly not going well. Numbers are now high enough that a few of my close friends have already been infected (or have close relatives who were). Although my family is OK, statistics is encroaching–just in time for the holiday break.
The increased infection rate comes both courtesy of the 20-29y age range (which was already rising in early October through November) and elderly people in the northern part of the country, and has failed to decrease despite a spate of bank holidays (which should have helped people stay at home).
The (moderately) good news is that pressure on hospitals seems to be lessening, hopefully due to improvements in treatments (although there was a lot of finger-pointing regarding under-preparation and loss of focus on reinforcing capacity by the government).
But the grim news is that the death rate has been increasing steadily again, especially in older demographics:
Again, just last I predicted last time, schools didn’t close, which I still believe will turn out to be a long-term mistake (we’ll probably never know, because criteria for testing and classifying contagion is completely skewed, and hardly discussed anymore, so school contagions seem to be classified as “in a family context”).
People still went to work. And private lunches, and dinners, and parties. Even with localized confinement, the virus keeps spreading (and only this week our Prime Minister went into self-isolation after having notably been in contact with Emmanuel Macron).
I’ve Given Up On Data Sources
And no, there is still no official data API or even a
CSV file. It’s been exactly 300 days since I started rolling my own, which has meant manually collating daily results from those misbegotten PDF files every afternoon, and cross-checking them with other sources on weekends.
There is no excuse whatsoever at this point, and it’s all become ridiculous to where I can get the official report off Twitter hours before it shows up on the official web site, but I keep at it1.
The Regional Lockdown Breakdown
Like most other countries, Portugal also adopted county-level confinement measures, revised every two weeks, plus shutting down most non-essential businesses. Closures on weekend afternoons may have contributed a fair bit to numbers plateauing, but like I expected anyone going into a mall or supermarket on weekday afternoons would find them populated as people extended their lunchtimes to shop, or ducked out mid-afternoon to get groceries before heading back home.
Restaurants, hotels and most of tourism are, obviously, going through pains to survive, with a few notorious protests. Economic prospects are dim, but expectations towards Christmas and the New Year are dimmer–and I’m not talking about economics here, since it’s pretty clear that either occasion will result in a boost in infections despite the recommendations to limit family gatherings.
I would also like to add a special note regarding the entirely farcical (and marvelously lampooned, although almost completely untranslatable) way that the government’s recommendations for Christmas celebrations were communicated on national television. Truly worthy of a Monty Python sketch, were it not so tragically incompetent.
Even with the vaccines’ impending arrival (and the first few thousand doses going, fittingly, to medical staff), prospects are not encouraging for the first half of 2021 — which is likely to mean tourism and other staples of the local economy are still going to be in the dumps.
And those of us who have watched the state medical system neutering itself over the past few decades as doctors moved to the (much more efficient, organized and profitable) private sector are finding it quite a bit awkward to lean on county health centers as the backbone of the inoculation program.
Given that it is almost impossible for a regular human to book a doctor’s appointment at a county health center via the phone with less than three week’s notice and without at least three attempts at physically going there to scheduling it in the first place, the heady vision of being summoned by SMS to be inoculated feels like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.
Hospitals and emergency services work pretty well here, but county health services are stuck somewhere in the 70s, but with computers and reminiscent of the DMV scene in Zootopia.
The country’s regular vaccination program, which is run through those centers, is 65 years old give or take and has indeed been one of the most efficient in Europe up until now, but that efficiency is measured in terms of population coverage/inoculations (around 95%, if figures quoted on TV are anything to go by) and most definitely not in expediency (except where infants are concerned).
I just don’t see them having the staff or the efficiency to do around 8 million inoculations as fast as the vaccines arrive, and will be thoroughly happy to be proven wrong.
Towards a Pandemic Anniversary
Regardless of the dynamics of herd immunity, my line of thinking is that the first trimester of 2021 is going to look much like 2020 as far as regional lockdowns go, with another peak during early January and mid-February and the resumption of the current, slowly declining plateau as we go through a couple more cycles of restrictions.
From there on, I can only speculate. And until then, I can only wait and try to keep safe, not to mention moderately sane and entertained.
So yeah, it’s going to be a really weird holiday break.