Portugal’s COVID-19 case surge is continuing unabated, with a new record of daily deaths, hospitalisations and patients in intensive care [Armando Franca/AP Photo]

As little as nine months ago, Portugal was considered a model of success in the battle against COVID-19, particularly in comparison to neighbouring Spain.

But in early 2021, with the country’s rate of new cases reaching the highest in the world in proportion to its population last week, and ambulances queueing outside Lisbon hospitals as its health service buckles under the strain, it is a grimly different story.

“The main hospitals are overcharged with sick people and doctors,” Manuel Carvalho, the director of one of Portugal’s biggest daily newspapers, Público, told Al Jazeera. “It is increasingly impossible to take care

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