April 24, 2020 / 2:16 PM / 3 months ago

Portugal ramps up coronavirus testing at care homes

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal hopes to conduct 70,000 coronavirus tests by the end of May at care homes, among whose residents around two in five of the country’s coronavirus deaths have occurred.

Around 17,000 tests have been conducted so far at some 200 homes.

The ramp-up, due to cover about 750 homes, aims to contain the spread of the outbreak there “by testing all workers and residents with symptoms”, the labour ministry said.

The Institute of Social Security estimates that around 150,000 people live in care homes across the country, so the planned tests would cover less than half of those residents.

Around 35,000 more live in unregistered homes, according to the Association of Domiciliary and Care Home Support (ALI).

“We should have the capacity to test everyone in care homes,” secretary of state for health Antonio Sales said on Friday, without explicitly committing to doing so.

Portugal has reported 22,797 coronavirus cases and 854 fatalities.

Two in five of those who have died lived in care homes, the head of the healthy ministry’s health directorate, Graca Freitas, said on Wednesday.

Visits to care homes were banned when the country declared a lockdown on March 18, since extended to May 2.

The government said on March 30 that tests would be made available to all care workers and residents suspected of carrying the disease, and deployed the army to assist in disinfecting homes where cases were widespread.

Portugal has recorded far fewer coronavirus deaths than neighbouring Spain, and its testing rate is one of the highest in the world, ranking above Norway, Italy and Germany at nearly 31,000 per million people.

“Increased testing has so far not reflected an increase in the rate of positive cases, which is a good sign,” Sales said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Friday that even if the state of emergency was lifted next week, restrictions on movement would continue.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee, Additional reporting by Sergio Goncalves, Editing by Andrei Khalip and John Stonestreet

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