Spain’s Health Ministry predicts coronavirus epidemic will last between two and five months

A total of 2,109 infections have been registered in the country so far, with the number of deaths from the Covid-19 disease at 49

Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, speaks to the press on Wednesday.
Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, speaks to the press on Wednesday.Luca Piergiovanni / EL PAÍS

Under ideal circumstances, if all of the measures being taken to control the spread of coronavirus work perfectly in Spain, the Health Ministry believes that the Covid-19 epidemic could come to an end in the country in two months. But this outcome is so idyllic that the experts consider it to be highly unlikely. “In the worst case, it could last four or five months,” said Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Simón confirmed the latest number of confirmed infections in Spain at 2,109, and the number of deaths at 49.

The government representative also stated that the epidemic will be seasonal, and that at some point between spring and summer, the last contagion of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will take place. From that moment on, for the epidemic to be considered over, two incubation periods will have to pass: that’s to say, a period of around a month, which is included in that “two to five” month period that the Health Ministry is predicting. “During the last phase the public will not even be aware of it, but epidemiology teams will continue working,” Simón added.

High-profile case

The latest high-profile figure to test positive for Covid-19 is Ana Pastor, an ex-minister under Popular Party (PP) administrations and former speaker of Congress who currently serves as deputy speaker. “I’ve been at home following doctors’ orders since Saturday afternoon, when I developed a fever. Yesterday my Covid-19 test came back positive so I will remain at home for as long as my colleagues say. I feel perfectly fine, without a fever or other symptoms,” tweeted Pastor, 62, who is a physician by trade.

She is the third member of Spanish parliament to have contracted the disease after Javier Ortega Smith and Carlos Zambrano, both from the far-right Vox. The national leadership of the PP is considering the next steps to take, given that Pastor has had an intense public agenda in recent days.

Short-term measures

Simón has made it clear that the Spanish public will not be subjected in the long term to the precautionary measures that are being introduced to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which include the closure of schools and restrictions on events with large crowds in risk areas such as the Madrid and La Rioja regions, the city of Vitoria and the municipality of Labastida, both in the Basque Country.

Rather, the effect of these restrictions will start to be noticed in a drop in the number of new cases being reported on a daily basis, as has already been seen in countries that started to suffer the epidemic earlier, such as China and South Korea. This effect will take around nine or 10 days to be noticeable, Simón explained on Wednesday. That is the time it takes between a person becoming infected, noting the first symptoms, and being positively diagnosed, in order to form part of the official statistics.

The situation will be re-examined once 14 days under the special measures have passed

For now, Spain is still in an ascendant phase of infections, with half of total cases registered in Madrid. All of Spain’s 17 regions have detected cases of Covid-19, but 78% of them are confined to four of the regions: Madrid, La Rioja, the Basque Country and Andalusia. A total of 49 people have so far died in Spain from the coronavirus, according to the latest figures provided by Simón on Wednesday, while 136 people who were infected have been given the all clear and released from treatment.

Madrid also has registered the highest number of serious cases. Of the 126 coronavirus patients who are currently in intensive care in Spain, 102 are in the Madrid region. This is because, Simón explained, of the kind of outbreaks registered there, which have included contagions in senior centers and care homes, which the most at-risk people frequent. That is also why there have been so many deaths in the region: a total of 31, with 10 in the last day alone.

Simón explained that the situation will be re-examined once 14 days under the special measures have passed, depending on how well they have worked. Additional measures have not, for now, been ruled out, but the authorities first want to evaluate how the steps taken so far are working.

The recommendation that people work from home in risk areas and the cancelation of classes have already had a positive impact on transportation, considerably reducing the size of crowds at rush hour. “If we find that this has been sufficient, there will be no need to restrict transportation,” Simón explained, ruling out even more drastic responses such as locking down the whole of the Madrid region.

“I know that there is pressure, pressure to take things to the maximum, but we need to take decisions that are feasible and useful at all times,” he concluded.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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