Covid-19 outbreaks test Spain’s ability to prevent transmission

The largest jump in cases has been reported at a Red Cross center in Málaga, where infections increased from 15 to 89 in just one day

A Red Cross refugee shelter in Málaga, where 89 people have tested positive.
A Red Cross refugee shelter in Málaga, where 89 people have tested positive.Álex Zea (Europa Press)
El País

Spain continues to record new coronavirus outbreaks less than a week after the government lifted the state of alarm and the restrictions on movement that came with it.

The Spanish Health Ministry on Thursday reported around 12 active coronavirus outbreaks across the country. A day later, the regional government of Andalusia announced three new outbreaks, two in Granada with three and five cases each, and one in Almería with four cases, for a total of eight outbreaks in the region. And in the northwestern region of Galicia, authorities were on Friday investigating possible ties between an outbreak in A Mariña and isolated cases detected in the same area.

An outbreak is defined by the ministry as a group of three or more infections with an epidemiological link, and it is considered active if there has been transmission within the last 14 days. In the case of infections detected in senior centers, one positive case is considered an outbreak, even if the patient is asymptomatic, due to the high level of risk.

According to Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, it was a positive sign that Spain is reporting outbreaks “and not community transmission” of Covid-19. “They are occurring in young people, meaning they are milder and transmitted less.” The health official warned, however, that “an outbreak that escapes [detection] for longer could lead to community transmission” of the coronavirus.

Of the detected outbreaks, there are two “which are of real concern,” said Simón, in reference to a cluster in a Red Cross shelter in the southern city of Málaga, and another one among seasonal laborers in Huesca province in Aragón. “These are the two in which we have to show that control has truly been achieved,” he said.

Red Cross shelter in Málaga

A Red Cross emergency refugee center (CAED) in Málaga detected its first case of coronavirus on Sunday, and since then, the number of infections has continued to rise: from nine on Tuesday to 15 on Wednesday to 89 on Thursday. This is the largest rise recorded in the 40 or so outbreaks detected in Spain since the beginning of the deescalation process.

The first case to be diagnosed was a Red Cross worker who had traveled recently to Spain’s Canary Islands. This individual, who was suffering from a fever and other coronavirus symptoms, went to a medical center, where a test came back positive. It was believed to be an isolated case, but the next day there was another infection at the Red Cross center. The organization quarantined the facility and carried out PCR tests on all staff members and migrants living at the center.

National Police control access to the Red Cross center in Málaga, following an outbreak of Covid-19.
National Police control access to the Red Cross center in Málaga, following an outbreak of Covid-19.Garcia-Santos

Samuel Linares, the provincial coordinator of Red Cross in Málaga, said that the organization decided to confine 93 people at the center, including residents and workers (both employees and volunteers) on Tuesday in a bid to curb contagion. Besides testing, authorities have also been tracking down contacts of the affected cases as well as workers who have been in other centers and vice versa.

“The situation now is the same as it was when we had the state of alarm: most of our team are working remotely, except for essential workers,” added Linares.

The coordinator also clarified rumors that the outbreak had been caused by migrants who arrived by boat in Málaga on Saturday. “These people have not entered the CAED in Málaga, meaning it is not even a possibility. Nor have people from this boat had any contact with CAED staff, nor of course, with its residents.”

The Andalusian regional government has for now ruled out returning the healthcare area of Málaga to Phase 2 of the coronavirus deescalation plan, arguing the outbreak “is under control.”

Fruit pickers in Huesca

In Huesca province in the region of Aragón, four comarcas (administrative districts smaller than provinces) were moved back to Phase 2 of the deescalation plan due to a coronavirus outbreak among fruit pickers. This decision was made earlier this week when the province recorded just 12 infections.

Fruit pickers in Fraga in the ‘comarca’ of Bajo Cinca, which has returned to Phase 2 of the coronavirus deescalation plan.
Fruit pickers in Fraga in the ‘comarca’ of Bajo Cinca, which has returned to Phase 2 of the coronavirus deescalation plan.JUAN BARBOSA (EL PAÍS)

On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported that a total of 250 coronavirus cases had been identified in the affected comarcas: Cinca Medio, Bajo Cinca, La Litera and Bajo Aragón-Caspe. According to Simón, “the large majority, 95%, were asymptomatic.” “Aragón is doing great work in its management of the outbreak and soon it will be on the path to resolution, but we have to be safe,” he added.

Quarantine in Cáceres

A total of 54 people, 21 of whom have tested positive for Covid-19, remain isolated in six homes in Navalmoral de la Mata, a town of 17,000 people in Cáceres province, in the western region of Extremadura. The residents went into quarantine in a bid to control the spread of the outbreak, which has been linked to an undocumented migrant.

The regional government of Extremadura announced on Thursday that it had issued a search and arrest warrant for the individual, who is considered to be the first positive case in the city. The man arrived on the coast of Almería on May 23, aboard a boat carrying 20 other people from North Africa. He was taken to the city of Cáceres the following day as part of a humanitarian program run by the secretary of state for migration.

José María Vergeles, the regional health chief of Extremadura, at a press conference on Thursday.
José María Vergeles, the regional health chief of Extremadura, at a press conference on Thursday.JUNTA DE EXTREMADURA

Cepaim Foundation organized his transfer – which was permitted under the state of alarm given it is considered an essential humanitarian service – and his placement in a shelter in Navalmoral de la Mata. According to the foundation, the young man was not presenting coronavirus symptoms at this point.

Alarms were raised after a migrant who was aboard the same boat tested positive for Covid-19 in a residence in Soria, in Castilla-León, which is also run by Cepaim. Five people who lived in the same house also tested positive for coronavirus. More testing was done on other Cepaim residences, both in Soria and in Navalmoral de la Mata.

The far-right party Vox has used the fact that the man is a migrant to spread xenophobic rumors on social media.

At a press conference on Thursday, José María Vergeles, the regional health chief of Extremadura, warned: “Those who believe that we are already free of the virus, that we can lead normal lives without living alongside the virus, are wrong.”

The regional government of Extremadura, however, has ruled out returning the province to a previous stage of the deescalation plan.

Latest figures

The recent Covid-19 outbreaks have slightly truncated the downward trend of the pandemic. According to the Health Ministry’s report on Thursday, there were 157 new cases, down from Wednesday’s figure of 196, but above the number recorded in previous weeks, when it fell below 100. In the past seven days, 11 people have died from coronavirus, bringing the total death toll to 28,330.

Imported cases in Madrid

A total of 32 passengers with coronavirus arrived in Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas between May 11 and June 11, according to Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso. At a press conference on Thursday, Díaz Ayuso explained that this represented 0.03% of all passengers in May (81,263, according to Spain’s Aena airport operator).

The Madrid regional government wants to ask every traveler to show that they have tested negative for the coronavirus via a PCR test, a measure which has been introduced in Greece and Austria. Regional authorities also want to reduce the number of flights coming from countries heavily affected by the pandemic, and to send a cellphone message to all arrivals informing them of what they should do if they start experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

With reporting by Pablo Linde, Nacho Sánchez and Juan Carlos Espinosa.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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