Coronavirus outbreaks in several Spanish regions have led to a sharp spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in Spain. According to the latest figures from the Health Ministry, released on Wednesday afternoon, there were 257 new cases in the past 24 hours. This is the highest number recorded since May 30, when 271 new infections were registered. Just over two weeks after Spain lifted the state of alarm and entered the “new normality” after a prolonged coronavirus lockdown and deescalation period, the figures indicate that the crisis is far from over.
Although the latest figures showed a spike in new cases, the number of coronavirus deaths fell to the lowest number on record, with nine registered in the last seven days.
“Although it was more or less expected, it is worrying that there are very significant outbreaks just a few weeks into the ‘new normality’ and that they are becoming difficult to control in situations that were potentially avoidable,” said Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo, the director of the Preventive Medicine and Public Health Department at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM).
Although it was more or less expected, it is worrying that there are very significant outbreaks just a few weeks into the ´new normality’ and that they are becoming difficult to controlFernando Rodríguez-Artalejo, director of the Preventive Medicine and Public Health Department at UAM
In a bid to prevent new Covid-19 outbreaks, the Catalan regional government has made face masks mandatory in all public spaces, regardless of whether social distancing measures can be respected. The region is currently struggling to control an outbreak in Lleida province that has led to the confinement of more than 200,000 people in the comarca of Segrià – a traditional administrative division that comprises 38 municipalities, where more than 500 cases have been detected. According to the latest figures, 52 new infections were detected on Wednesday in the previous 24 hours.
With the public health services overwhelmed and hospitals under pressure from the influx of cases, experts warn that there is already community transmission of the virus in Segrià, which includes the city of Lleida. This means that the problem is no longer outbreaks – which are defined as three cases with an epidemiological link – but rather uncontrolled contagion of unknown origin.
Regional authorities in the Basque Country have also made face masks mandatory in all public spaces in the municipality of Ordizia, in Gipuzkoa province, after 31 new cases were detected in the area. Thirteen of these infections are linked to an outbreak, which has been traced to a person who had traveled to Lleida and had a family meal at a local restaurant. Restrictions on the capacity of bars and restaurants have been reintroduced in a bid to curb contagion. According to the latest figures, 12 new coronavirus cases were detected in the Basque Country on Wednesday in the last 24 hours.
In Spain’s Balearic Islands, face masks are also set to become mandatory even when social distancing can be respected, according to sources from the regional government. The measure, which is expected to be approved before the end of the week, will consider exceptions for places like beaches, pools and during exercise.
“We went to guarantee the greatest level of security for citizens,” explained Patricia Gómez, the regional health chief, in an interview with the SER radio station on Thursday. “If a mask is not worn, the fine will not be more than €100, but other sanctions are being considered.”
Outbreaks in Spain
Most of the 257 new cases reported on Wednesday were detected in areas with confirmed coronavirus outbreaks. The northwestern region of Aragón, where four comarcas have been moved back to Phase 2 of the government’s deescalation plan due to a spike in cases, recorded 60 new infections on Wednesday. This is a significant rise given that the outbreak, detected among fruit pickers in the Huesca region, was thought to be more controlled. Last Thursday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, said that the outbreak “was very close” to being contained, and hinted that the comarcas could move to Phase 3 this week. But given the latest figures, it is likely they will have to wait longer before the restrictions are eased.
In the region of Galicia, where nearly 70,000 residents of the comarca of A Mariña, in A Coruña province, have been confined due to a coronavirus outbreak, 35 new Covid-19 cases were reported on Wednesday. Of these, 90% were detected in three municipalities: Burela, Foz and Xove. The Galicia regional government has said it will consider whether to restrict mobility in these three areas.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Wednesday that around 70% of new cases in A Coruña are asymptomatic and have been detected through the contact tracing system. This could explain that while the number of infections has increased significantly, the number of hospital admissions remains stable, with 137 recorded in the last week.
Pedro Gullón, the spokesperson of the Spanish Epidemiological Association, explains that if most cases are linked and have been tracked down, the outbreak, while worrying, is not cause for alarm. “The key is to localize the origin; what would be truly worrying is if the cases came from a loose count of community transmission,” he said.
In an interview with Spanish television network Antena 3 on Thursday, Illa confirmed that there were 73 active coronavirus outbreaks in Spain. The minister said that “early detection” was key to curbing contagion and refused to cast blame for the outbreaks.
“Who is to blame is a pointless debate that I am not going to enter. What’s important is working together to reduce the outbreaks,” he said.
The regions of Madrid and Andalusia also reported a high number of new cases on Wednesday, with 35 and 28 infections respectively. In Andalusia, two more outbreaks were reported – one in a senior home in Ronda, in Málaga province, and another one in Granada province – bringing the total to 17.
English version by Melissa Kitson.