Spain considering more drastic measures in bid to halt spread of coronavirus

With over 115 Covid-19 cases now confirmed, authorities may recommend that residents of Torrejón de Ardoz and Vitoria work from home

The Torrejón de Ardoz hospital.
The Torrejón de Ardoz hospital.Chema Moya / EFE

The number of confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus infections in Spain passed the 115 mark on Monday. While the majority have been found in patients who had traveled abroad, there are five groups where the origin is as yet unknown. This situation is currently worrying Spanish health authorities, who are trying to find the root of the contagion, identify their contacts and stop short any further possible transmissions.

The Health Ministry is looking closely at two of these outbreaks. One is in the Madrid municipality of Torrejón de Ardoz, where there are around a dozen cases due to local contagions in two different groups, and in the northern Basque city of Vitoria, where a case involving a doctor has raised suspicions that the coronavirus has entered the health system without being detected. This latter situation is one of the most feared by the authorities, given that it could affect hospital staff.

Speaking on Monday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies, explained that Spanish authorities are considering raising the level of precaution from “containment” to “mitigation,” but only in Torrejón and Vitoria. “If we move to another phase or scenario, there could be restrictions related to gatherings of people, and they could be of any age group or type,” he said. “But measures such as these have a huge economic and social impact in the areas where they are taken, so we have to wait until the exact moment: neither before they are necessary or too late.”

An example of these restrictions could be canceling school classes, “something that would have a major impact because the children would have no one to stay with,” Simón added. He also spoke about home working as a possibility for residents of Torrejón de Ardoz and Vitoria.

One of the measures that is already being taken is “raising the sensitivity” of the health system to detect new cases. That means that tests are being carried out on patients who are presenting symptoms but have not necessarily been in a risk zone or in contact with infected people. “This involves significant resources and should not be done everywhere,” warned Simón on Monday.

Other restrictions under consideration are related to sporting events, in particular those involving teams from risk zones

Another one of the groups with no known origin involves a patient who became infected in Málaga. However, an investigation has shed a lot of light on that case and it is not a major concern. Without going into much detail, Simón said that his team believed that outbreak was under control. One of the outbreaks in Torrejón involves an evangelical religious community. Health authorities are investigating similar religious groups in other regions of Spain, to see if there has been contact between them. There is currently a coronavirus patient in a serious condition in Castilla-La Mancha, whose source of infection is unknown.

Other restrictions under consideration are related to sporting events, in particular those involving teams from risk zones, such as the north of Italy. The general director of Spain’s Public Health department, Pilar Aparicio, took part this morning in a conference at which she stated that her ministry will evaluate whether it makes sense for sports matches involving teams from these areas to go ahead, or whether special measures should be applied.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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