LISBON (Reuters) – A few months ago, Cristiano Ronaldo had to self-isolate at the Portuguese soccer squad’s training complex near Lisbon after a positive COVID-19 test.
Now, the same hotel-like facility has joined the fight against a devastating surge in infection as a makeshift hospital.
About 20 COVID-19 patients are receiving care in the same bedrooms where players like Ronaldo stay as they prepare for matches.
When patients arrive at the Football City complex, a goody bag awaits them with books about football and a national team scarf. When discharged, they get to take home a jersey with their names printed on the back.
“When people get here they think they are on vacation and not in a situation of recovery….it is a great place,” doctor Radic Nordin said as he stood near one of the football pitches that can be seen from the balconies of the patient’s rooms.
The training ground, owned by the Portuguese Football Federation, decided to temporarily turn into a hospital a few weeks ago, when health units across the nation of a little more than 10 million people started to reach their limits.
Portugal, which has so far reported a total of 13,017 COVID-19 deaths and 731,861 cases, has the world’s second highest seven-day rolling average of deaths per capita, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.
Hospitals have been on the verge of collapse over the past weeks, with ambulances sometimes queuing for hours because of a lack of beds.
“We had one week to get everything ready to receive patients,” said Cláudia Poças, Football City’s director, describing the move as a “civic duty to help the country”.
“It was a huge transformation.”
Patients, who are directed to the facility by health authorities, now occupy fully equipped rooms on two out of three floors, where doctors and nurses wearing personal protective equipment are easy to spot. Meals – cooked by Football City’s own chef – are delivered straight to the patients’ rooms.
Catarina Magalhaes, a social security worker helping coordinate admissions to the facility, said patients and their relatives feel more relaxed there, outside the overcrowded and understaffed hospitals.
“We are dealing with positive COVID-19 cases. It is a risk but the team here has a lot of strength and a sense of mission,” she said standing outside one of corridors leading to the patients’ rooms. “We all have to contribute to this fight.”
Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira and Pedro Nunes, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan