Rising number of coronavirus cases in Spain sparks concern in Europe

Quarantine measures and travel warnings have been introduced against the country, which now has the fifth-highest incidence of Covid-19 on the continent

A tourist walks past a street in Benidorm, where many businesses have closed due to the lack of tourists.
A tourist walks past a street in Benidorm, where many businesses have closed due to the lack of tourists.Manuel Lorenzo (EFE)
Elena G. Sevillano

The rising number of coronavirus cases in Spain has raised concern in other European countries. Infections in Spain began to increase four weeks ago and jumped significantly in the past few days. Spain now has the fifth-highest incidence of Covid-19 in Europe, after Luxembourg, Romania, Bulgaria and Sweden. According to the latest data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), from July 25, Spain has 39.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (which is a 14-day cumulative number). This figure is higher than the 37.9 cases reported by the Spanish Health Ministry on Friday, July 24.

The spike in cases has led several European countries to introduce warnings against travel to Spain and quarantine measures on travelers from the country. On Saturday, the British government announced that all travelers from Spain would have to quarantine for 14 days as of Sunday, in a major blow to the Spanish tourism industry. The incidence of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom is 14.7 – 2.6 times lower than Spain.

Travelers on a flight to the United Kingdom line up to check in their baggage at Tenerife Sur airport on Sunday.
Travelers on a flight to the United Kingdom line up to check in their baggage at Tenerife Sur airport on Sunday.Ramón de la Rocha (EFE)

Last Friday, the French government “strongly” urged French citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the Spanish region of Catalonia, where several coronavirus outbreaks have been reported. Although the incidence of Covid-19 in France is similar to Britain’s (14.6), the country has also seen a rise in coronavirus cases, reporting 1,130 new cases on Friday. In a bid to control contagion, France has made it mandatory for travelers from 16 countries, including Brazil and the United States, to take a PCR test to show they are not carrying the disease.

Norway, like the UK, has introduced a 10-day quarantine for travelers from Spain (among other countries in the European Union), and has advised against non-essential travel to the country.

Ireland published a list of countries exempt from quarantine measures on July 22 but Spain was not included, meaning travelers from Spain must self-isolate for two weeks upon their return.

Belgium, which has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases in the 20-30 age bracket, went one step further and banned all non-essential travel to the Spanish provinces of Lleida and Huesca. What’s more, travelers from the Spanish regions of Aragón, Extremadura, Catalonia, La Rioja, Navarre and the Basque Country are also recommended to quarantine.

On Saturday, the Norwegian government warned its citizens against all non-essential travel to the Catalan province of Lleida, and on Sunday, Poland recommended against traveling to the entire Catalan region.

Uneven situation

The epidemiological situation in Spain is very uneven. In Aragón, for instance, there are 237.86 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 1.66 cases in Asturias. While the former has recorded several large outbreaks among seasonal workers, the latter has detected just two since the beginning of the government’s national deescalation plan.

The Asturias government acted quickly and transparently to control these two outbreaks. After the last one was reported in a brewery in Oviedo, regional authorities informed the public, reported the name of the brewery and called on everyone who had been to the bar to call an emergency hotline. In just two days, health authorities had done 400 PCR tests to track down all possible cases among patrons.

In Catalonia, on the other hand, the region’s contact tracing system has failed to control the outbreaks detected in the Barcelona metropolitan area, in the comarcas – a traditional administrative division – in Lleida province, and in an area of Girona province. This has led to community transmission, in other words, contagions that are unconnected to one another, meaning the chain of transmission cannot be traced. The 14-day cumulative incidence of Covid-19 in Catalonia is 115.57 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In a bid to curb contagion, the Catalan regional government on Friday shut down all nightclubs and party venues.

Fewer cases than the UK

Nine of Spain’s 17 regions have lower incidence of the coronavirus than Britain, including the Canary and Balearic Islands, with 5.8 cases and eight cases per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively. The regional governments of the two archipelagos are hoping to be exempted from the quarantine measure due to their low incidence of the virus. The proposal is aimed at saving the summer tourism season on the islands, which rely heavily on the industry.

Las Américas beach in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, where many businesses are closed due to the coronavirus crisis.
Las Américas beach in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, where many businesses are closed due to the coronavirus crisis.RAFA AVERO

Italy, with an incidence of 4.9 cases, has so far been able to keep the spread of the virus at bay. Only the Spanish regions of Galicia and Asturias have a lower incidence. But even Italy is worried about a possible second wave of the virus. After a month of reporting relatively low numbers of new cases, Italy recorded more than 300 infections in 24 hours last week. Italian virologist Roberto Burioni recently warned about the ongoing risk of Covid-19. “The virus continues circulating and it is ready to begin again, like it has done in Spain, where the climate and lifestyle is not very different from ours.”

Portugal, which was initially praised for its management of the pandemic, is now in a similar situation to Spain, with the cumulative incidence of the virus at 39 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – compared to 39.4 in Spain.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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