The Catalan regional government warned on Monday that it may introduce stricter lockdown rules to contain the coronavirus outbreaks in the comarca of Segrià, in Lleida province. According to Catalan authorities, the number of outbreaks in the comarca – a traditional administrative division in parts of Spain – doubled on Monday from seven to 14 in just four days.
In a bid to curb contagion, Catalan authorities confined more than 200,000 residents of the comarca on Saturday, with no one able to enter or leave, with the exception of those who need to for work. But authorities now say tougher measures may be needed. “If the situation does not change in two weeks, we will have to consider new measures like home confinement,” said Pere Godoy, the head of the epidemiological services in Lleida, who explained that community transmission of the virus has returned to the comarca.
The affected area is in the south of the province, on the border with neighboring Huesca and Zaragoza provinces, and contains 38 municipalities, including the city of Lleida. The main source of the outbreak has been traced to infections among fruit pickers in the area, which has spread to homes and then to the rest of the community. Of the 14 outbreaks, 10 have been detected in fruit picking companies.
According to Godoy, the contagion rate in Lleida was 3.1% at the beginning of June, slightly below the rest of the country, which was at 5%. However, the increased economic and social activity, as well as the arrival of approximately 30,000 fruit pickers for the harvesting season, led to the rise in infections over the past few weeks. Last week, the accumulated incidence of Covid-19 in Segrià rose to more than 175 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, several times above high-risk levels. Godoy, who is also the president of the Spanish Epidemiological Society (SEE), warned that according to a macro prevalence study, 97% of residents in Segrià are still susceptible to Covid-19, as they have not yet contracted the virus or developed antibodies.
On Friday, the Catalan regional government set up a field hospital near Lleida’s Arnau de Vilanova hospital to manage the rise in coronavirus patients. According to the latest figures, there were eight intensive care admissions on Monday, double the figure recorded 10 days ago, and 57 hospitalizations. Catalan authorities have also begun recruiting volunteers from the public healthcare system to work at the field hospital.
In a radio interview on Tuesday, the head of the Catalan health department, Alba Vergés, said that the government was considering making the use of face masks compulsory in Catalonia even when social distancing can be respected – a measure that has already been introduced in Segriá.
Health Ministry says confinement should have happened sooner
Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), said on Monday that the Catalan government should have taken action sooner to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
On the regional government’s decision to confine the comarca, Simón said: “It’s a courageous act. I would have liked them to have made it earlier.”
The health official said that he was “very worried” about the situation in Segriá, but explained he was concerned about all outbreaks in Spain. “Generally, [the outbreaks] are being controlled correctly but there are some that are growing in volume, with a number of cases much higher than what is desirable,” he added.
Now that Spain has entered the “new normality” following a prolonged coronavirus lockdown and deescalation process, it is up to regional authorities – not the central government – to manage and control coronavirus outbreaks.
In response to Simón’s comment, the Catalan health department replied: “Thank you, but now decisions are made in Catalonia. Here we have the data, we are on the ground and we know the reality of the situation. One cannot govern from an office 600 kilometers away.”
The northern region of Aragón, where four comarcas have been moved back to Phase 2 of the coronavirus deesclation plan, reported a significant rise in cases over the weekend, with 41 new infections detected. This brings the total number of cases to 410, with the majority of those affected fruit pickers.
Meanwhile in the comarca of A Mariña in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, which was confined on Sunday due to a Covid-19 outbreak, 22 new coronavirus cases were reported on Monday, according to the Galician health department (Sergas). This brings the total to 128 infections, of which 119 are active.
English version by Melissa Kitson.