OVIEDO, Spain

The number of coronavirus patients treated in Portuguese intensive care units (ICUs) reached new highs Friday although the speed of contagion is slowing. 

Another 41 patients entered ICUs, bringing the number of critical COVID-19 patients to more than 900 for the first time.

The situation remains perilous in hospitals battered by a tsunami of infections after relaxed measures during Christmas mixed with a surge in a variant first detected in the UK.

Last week, scientists found that almost half of the cases in Lisbon, the hardest-hit area, were caused by the more contagious mutation.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute warned Friday that loosening measures with the new variants in circulation could produce more devastating situations like in Portugal.

As Portugal’s ICUs are further pushed to the limit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his nation will accept 10 critical patients from Portugal.

The Lisbon area has already sent several critical patients to the Portuguese island of Madeira, a transfer that involves a medicalized flight of nearly two hours.

More than 20 German doctors and nurses flew to Lisbon this week to help treat patients.

Portugal had long been hailed as a success story in the pandemic for its success at controlling contagion, but the latest wave has been devastating.

The country’s COVID-19 deaths have more than doubled since Dec. 30, from 6,830 to 13,740.

It has been under full lockdown since Jan. 15, and new contagions have dropped significantly from a peak of 16,000.

The health ministry reported nearly 7,000 new infections – more than half in Lisbon.

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