Two sides of the coronavirus crisis in Spain: One half of the country has five times as many cases as the other

The areas entering Phase 2 of the deescalation plan on Monday have a much higher infection rate than those that are moving to the last stage

A waiter disinfects a table at a restaurant in Pamplona, Navarre.
A waiter disinfects a table at a restaurant in Pamplona, Navarre.Eduardo Sanz (Europa Press)

The coronavirus deescalation plan is happening at two different speeds in Spain. On Monday, 52% of the country entered Phase 3 of the plan, which is the last stage before the beginning of the “new normality.” The other half – made up of Castilla y León, Madrid, the Valencia region, the healthcare areas of Barcelona and Lleida in Catalonia, the provinces of Toledo, Albacete and Ciudad Real in Castilla-La Mancha, and the exclave city of Ceuta in North Africa – moved to Phase 2.

The difference between the areas in Phase 2 and Phase 3 can be explained by one of the most important parameters for assessing the evolution of the pandemic: the number of new active coronavirus cases confirmed by PCR testing.

This figure, which is reported daily by the regions to the Spanish Health Ministry, highlights why some territories have advanced further in the deescalation plan. While the regions in Phase 2 reported in total 218 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last seven days on Sunday, areas in Phase 3 recorded just 45 new cases per 100,000. In other words, territories in Phase 2 reported five times as many new coronavirus infections as Phase 3. To calculate this number, data from Castilla-La Mancha was left out, given that the region is divided between the two stages. In the case of Catalonia, only figures from healthcare areas in Phase 2 were counted, given that they are the most populous in the region.

Phase 2 areas reported nearly four times as many coronavirus deaths in the last week as those in Phase 3

The northeastern region of Aragón recorded 6.14 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last week, one of the highest rates among Phase 3 areas, followed by Navarre with 5.35 cases per 100,000. This is a reflection of a coronavirus outbreak among fruit pickers in Aragón’s Huesca province, and the fact that Navarre is a small region with a relatively high dissemination of the virus – three cases in the 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday – but two large hospitals and a strong healthcare system.

Madrid and Castilla y León have the highest number of new cases of all of Spain’s 17 regions, with 10.6 per 100,000 and 9.67 respectively. But the worst-affected area in Spain relative to its population is Ceuta (which is classified as an autonomous city, not a region). The North African exclave city reported a rate of 21.23 new cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, due to a recent outbreak. Ceuta, however, is only home to 85,000 inhabitants, meaning the contagion rate can rise significantly with just two new cases. As a result of the spike in infections, authorities in Ceuta did not request to move to Phase 3 of the coronavirus deescalation plan, despite having spent the required two weeks in Phase 2.

Looking at daily figures reported on Sunday rather than seven-day accumulated ones, the difference between areas in Phase 2 and Phase 3 is almost double. On Sunday, the former reported a total of 68 new infections, while the latter recorded 31. In Castilla-La Mancha, the number was three, bringing the total to 241,550. The number of new daily cases often fluctuates, however, as they are revised by the regions.

A similar difference can be seen in the number of coronavirus-related deaths. On Sunday, regions in Phase 2 reported a total of 57 fatalities over the past week, nearly four times the figure in Phase 3 areas, which recorded 15 deaths in the same time period. Two-thirds of fatalities in the first group were recorded in the Madrid region, where there were 39 deaths.

Deescalation in Phase 2 vs Phase 3

While similar activities are permitted in both stages, the limits on capacity are higher in Phase 3, meaning restaurants, weddings, public transportation and stores can welcome larger groups of people. For example, social gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed under Phase 3, compared to 15 under Phase 2.

The indoor areas of bars and restaurants can open under both stages, but only in Phase 3 can people stand at the bar. What’s more, casinos and nightclubs can open in Phase 3, but not in Phase 2.

Another key difference is freedom of movement. In the last stage of the coronavirus deescalation plan, residents can travel freely between the provinces, islands or healthcare areas of their region. The only exception is in Extremadura, where regional authorities have decided to restrict travel between the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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