Barcelona and its metropolitan area will see further delay to coronavirus deescalation

The Catalan government will once again propose to the central government that these zones should not yet move to Phase 1 of the process, but that the healthcare areas of Lleida, Girona and Catalunya Central should

Two passers-by in Hospitalet de Llobregat, Catalonia.
Two passers-by in Hospitalet de Llobregat, Catalonia.Albert Garcia / EL PAÍS

The city of Barcelona will once again have to wait before it can move from Phase 0 to Phase 1 of Spain’s coronavirus deescalation plan. The Catalan regional government will this week propose that the healthcare areas of Lleida, Girona and Catalunya Central should move to Phase 1 on Monday, joining Tarragona and Pirineo de Lleida, which made the transition earlier this week.

Catalan health chief Alba Vergés will file a request that will argue that the Catalan capital and its surrounding areas are still not ready to begin to deescalate confinement conditions, although specific measures are being prepared in the coming days for Barcelona and the metropolitan area.

Around half of Spain’s population moved from Phase 0 to Phase 1 on Monday, which, among other measures, allows for the reopening of street cafés, stores and libraries, as well as meetings up of to 10 people provided they observe social distancing.

If the central government agrees with the proposal, a further 1.7 million people will join the 772,000 Catalans from Tarragona and Pirineo de Lleida who entered Phase 1 on Monday

The Catalan government last week requested that the aforementioned areas should not move to Phase 1, on the basis that they did not meet the criteria set out by the central Health Ministry. The Madrid region, on the other hand, requested a move to Phase 1, something that was eventually rejected by the central government.

“Accumulated incidents [of coronavirus] are falling in all territories,” Vergés added. But only the regions of Lleida, Girona and Catalunya Central are ready to move to the next phase, according to the decision taken by Procicat, the technical committee that is in charge of coordinating the region’s response to the pandemic.

This will mean that if the central government agrees with the proposal, a further 1.7 million people will join the 772,000 Catalans from the province of Tarragona and from Pirineo de Lleida – an area in northwestern Catalonia comprising Val d’Aran, Pallars Sobirà, Alta Ribagorça, Pallars Jussà, Alt Urgell, Solsonès and Cerdanya – who entered Phase 1 on Monday.

The health chief stressed, however, that the regional government is still working with local councils to find intermediate measures for Barcelona and its metropolitan area. Vergés opted not to specify when this specific proposal would be defined and whether it would involve some of the measures involved in Phase 1, or simply a further delay to the change of phase.

Vergés referred to the different realities of the three healthcare regions that remain under confinement measures to justify the delay, and the need to study each particular case. “We have to do a lot of work to present adequate proposals in these areas,” she said. “It’s not a question of isolating anyone, but rather taking into account territorial differences and the way that people live in each one. We’ll see which date is the most appropriate but we don’t want to go too many days more. We want to move forward and see how we can recover life with the necessary prudence. The involvement of councils is key.”

To measure the chance of a new coronavirus outbreak, the regional government has combined indicators such as the number of cases in the last 14 days, the effective reproductive rate (how many people are infected by a positive case), and also the so-called EPG index, which comes from multiplying the accumulated cases in the last 14 days with the reproductive rate in the last seven days. When the EPG index is below 30, the risk of a new outbreak is low. Between 30 and 70, the risk is moderate. Between 70 and 100 is moderate to high, and from 100, the risk is considered to be high.

All of the Catalan health regions are in moderate or low levels, but as well as this parameter, the health chief stated that other indicators are being measured too. “The decisions are not just based on epidemiological risk, but also the capacity to treat cases, to see whether we assume more risk or not, the ability to monitor new cases… This is what makes us decide,” said Vergés.

Pilar Saura, the general director of health planning in Catalonia, said that there is “no supply problem” in terms of personal protective equipment, another one of the conditions set out by the ministry before an area can enter the next phase. The number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which tripled from 600 to 2,000 in Catalonia during the pandemic, are now being scaled back, but the health department has stated that these beds can be recuperated if necessary. What’s more, the department has announced that permanent ICU beds will be increased by 25% – up to 825 – compared to the number that existed before the epidemic.

The accumulated incidence of cases in the last 14 days in Catalonia is the second highest in Spain: nearly 51 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, and second only to the Castilla y León region. Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Catalonia has seen the second-highest number of total cases, 55,280, and the second-highest number of Covid-19-related deaths, 5,692, behind Madrid in both data points.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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