"A new escalation of the virus is on the table, even with the vaccine," Graça Freitas acknowledged in an interview with RTP3, stressing: "The virus mutates. We are not free of it, despite the vaccine. And we do not know how long the immunity will last, if it will protect against new variants or how the natural immunity will work".
Questioned about the evaluation criteria that should guide the definition of the deconfinement plan, Graça Freitas highlighted the diversity of methodologies adopted among countries and stressed that there is no single "recipe" that everyone can copy. However, she did point out the primacy of four criteria.
"The four indicators that are being weighted most heavily - and do not exclude others - are: cumulative incidence at 14 days, positivity rate, occupancy of beds in intensive care units and the Rt [transmissibility index]", she stressed. At this level, he stressed that Portugal has a "low" Rt and with "a positivity rate of less than 4 percent", but recalled the worrying situation in hospitalisations and confessed that it is still necessary to "lower the incidence a little".
"We have to consolidate all these values and hope that some of them will improve. We would like the incidence to go down more so that we can have more comfort. We need to be a little cautious. These deconfinements in other countries are also being phased in," he noted.
Among the greatest concerns of the confinement is the closure of schools and the consequences that this situation may have on students, with Graça Freitas stressing that "caution would advise that it was a phased opening, starting with the levels of education with younger students”.
The responsible of the DGS ensured that it is planned to start testing in schools with the resumption of school activities and that the screenings may be extended depending on what is found, but left a message to experts who defend mass testing as the solution to combat the pandemic: "Tests are not treatments or vaccines".
Regarding vaccination, Graça Freitas acknowledged that "the first quarter will fall short of expectations", due to the lack of availability of vaccines, but showed hope in meeting the goal of 70 percent of the country's population vaccinated by the end of August. As for a possible extension of the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65 years old, the director-general of Health does not exclude the review that is already underway in some countries.
"As we get more information from other countries, we don't rule it out, because it allows older groups to be vaccinated more quickly," she said.
After reviewing a pandemic year in the country, which she considered to have been "very intense" and "tragic", during which she assumed to have had "moments" in which she thought of giving up, Graça Freitas regretted the "hoarding numbers" of more than 16 thousand deaths and 800 thousand cases associated with Covid-19, especially the drama experienced in January, in which Portugal hit maximum deaths and infections.
"An avalanche happened. Some important factors came together, and sometimes you can't predict the synergy of the factors. We had a new variant circulating, which increases the speed of propagation, we were in winter and had extremely cold temperatures, but there was no forecast with a dimension like this. What we would have expected was a third wave a little bit bigger than the second one. The trail it left is devastating", she concluded.