CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus is spreading faster and further through Spain than in Italy

Unlike the Alpine country, where 80% of deaths were in the same three regions, in Spanish territory there has been an accelerated rise in cases in regions that had not previously been affected

A police checkpoint in the Usera neighborhood, in Madrid.
A police checkpoint in the Usera neighborhood, in Madrid.Samuel Sanchez / EL PAÍS

Spain began its second week of total lockdown in the worst way possible on Monday. A total of 462 people died due to the coronavirus outbreak in just 24 hours. That’s the biggest daily rise seen up until today, and confirms a trend that no expert expects will change in the coming days. “We are still in a phase of growth in the impact of the virus, and this will still last some time,” explains Pere Godoy, president of the Spanish Epidemiology Society (SEE).

The number of deaths in Spain caused by the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Monday reached 2,182, meaning that Spain has taken just three days to double the 1,000 deaths that had been registered on Friday. Not even China or Italy – two of the worst-hit countries in the world during this pandemic – saw that rhythm of fatalities.

What’s more, Spain is seeing a much wider territorial spread of the epidemic compared to Italy. In both cases, around 90% of the first 100 deaths were seen in three regions. In Italy, these were Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. In Spain, the first outbreaks occurred in Madrid, the Basque Country-La Rioja (both were sites of the same outbreak) and Aragón.

More than 80% of the 6,000 deaths that Italy has seen continue to happen in the same three regions, a percentage that in Spain has fallen to 65%. The reason for this is that, unlike Italy – where the rest of the territories continue to see relatively low rates – in Spain there has been a rapid rise in cases in a group of regions. These are Catalonia, Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha. To a lesser extent this rise has also been seen in the Valencia region.

“There is a group of regions that, without reaching the highest rates, have registered a notable increase in deaths in the last week,” explains Daniel López Acuña, an associate professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health and the former director of Health Action in Crisis at the World Health Organization (WHO). “This is a phenomenon that didn’t happen in Italy.

The expert believes that this was due to the fact that “in Italy, mobility was reduced more when the first outbreaks were detected, while in Spain mobility was very high even during the days ahead of the declaration of the state of alarm.”

While experts believe that “it is still early to reach conclusions with scientific evidence,” Pere Godoy also points to the moments ahead of the state of alarm. “I think it was a mistake to allow the large geographical dispersion that took place in the days prior to the introduction of isolation, something that could have facilitated the dispersion of the virus.”

Another factor that López Acuña points to is the “trickle of cases imported from Italy that definitely were in Spain in the days prior to the detection of local contagions.” He continues: “These were definitely more intense and disperse than those that could have happened between China and Italy, which explains the current rise observed in these regions.”

Joan Ramon Villalbí, a member and ex-president of the Spanish Public Health and Health Administration Society (SESPAS), believes that the differences between Spain and Italy also have had an influence. “It is likely that as a state, Spain is more integrated in the flow of circulation of persons than Italy, where there are huge differences between the north and the south,” he says.

This would explain, for example, why a region with a high population level such as Sicily, which has more than five million inhabitants, has seen just three deaths from the coronavirus as of Sunday. But it doesn’t explain why another area in Italy, such as Tuscany, with 3.8 million residents, has also seen a much lower impact. This has led the experts to conclude that the causes of the phenomenon are “a combination” of those previously mentioned.

English version by Simon Hunter.