Spain overtakes UK’s Covid-19 case count

According to Johns Hopkins University, it is now the Western European country with the highest number of infections

A resident in Ripollet (Barcelona) after taking a PCR test for Covid-19.
A resident in Ripollet (Barcelona) after taking a PCR test for Covid-19.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Spain on Friday surpassed the United Kingdom in terms of Covid-19 infections, becoming the Western European country with the highest case count (309,855 compared with 309,796 in the UK), according to a global dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The Health Ministry on Friday reported 4,507 new cases, of which 1,895 were diagnosed in the last 24 hours Cases are surging in the northern region of the Basque Country, where health authorities on Friday reported 428 new positives, a 26% rise from a day earlier. Most of the new infections, 311, were reported in the province of Bizkaia.

In Aragón, the European region with the highest Covid-19 incidence according to an analysis by The Economist, authorities said they will begin conducting home visits to check that infected individuals are observing the quarantine. Violators will face sanctions.

The program will begin on Monday in the Delicias district of the city of Zaragoza, an area that is home to nearly 100,000 people and where coronavirus prevalence is high. Authorities said they will offer alternative accommodation to people whose living conditions are unlikely to end the chain of transmission.

And in Madrid, another one of Spain’s most affected regions, the night-time entertainment industry is planning to shut down bars, nightclubs and flamenco tablaos between Friday and Sunday to protest the “arbitrary and disproportionate” restrictions recently introduced by the regional government in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. Entrepreneurs say that earlier closing times, reduced capacity and the ban on using dance floors are making drinks bars lose an average of €25,000 a month while clubs are losing over €100,000.

580 outbreaks

There are up to 580 active Covid-19 outbreaks in Spain with 6,900 associated cases. That’s according to the latest figures released on Thursday by the Spanish Health Ministry. This represents a rise of nearly 100 outbreaks since last week, when the figure was 483.

Speaking at a government press conference on Thursday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, said that an increasing number of outbreaks are related to social gatherings and nighttime venues. Other significant outbreaks have been recorded among workers in the horticultural sector and at food processing companies. The Health Ministry has recorded around 30 outbreaks in these workplaces, with 500 related cases, which equates to 17 infections per episode.

Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, on Thursday.
Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, on Thursday.Jesús Hellín (Europa Press)

A total of 46 outbreaks, with more than 1,500 cases, have been detected in Spain’s nightlife venues. This equates to 32 infections each – nearly double the figure in the workplace.

Although transmission in social gatherings, such as parties among family and friends, is on the rise, it is proportionally less dangerous, said Simón. Of the 106 outbreaks in this category, 980 cases have been detected; with an average of nine infections in each.

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. Simón did not provide details on the other types of outbreaks detected, for example, those recorded in care homes and healthcare centers.

The rise in outbreaks has been accompanied by community transmission of Covid-19, when the origin of the infection cannot be determined. This has led to a general rise in all basic indicators of the pandemic – the number of diagnoses, hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths.

According to the latest report, 1,683 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours. While this is down from Wednesday’s figure of 1,772, the total number of new infections – cases which were not diagnosed the day before – rose from 2,953 to 4,088. This represents the difference between the total number of infections reported by Spain’s regions on the respective days. The daily report indicates that the discrepancy between the total and the daily number of cases is due to ongoing reviews of the data provided by the regions.

Now we are detecting 60 to 70% of all infections; during the peak, we were detecting less than 10%
Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts

Despite the rise in new cases, Simón explained that the current situation is far from what it was in the beginning of March. Although Spain is recording a similar number of cases, at that point only 10% of detected cases were asymptomatic; now the average is 50%. This may be because the Spanish healthcare system is less overwhelmed, meaning it can detect infections that used to stay under the radar. It also means that asymptomatic cases are now aware of their condition and can self-isolate to avoid spreading the disease – something that did not happen in March when only people with clear coronavirus symptoms were being tested.

“Now we are detecting 60 to 70% of all infections; during the peak, we were detecting less than 10%,” said Simón. “Our objective this summer is to reach September with the lowest community transmission possible.”

But, as with all the parameters, there is a big difference between how many asymptomatic cases are being detected by the regions. In the Basque Country, for example, 81% of asymptomatic infections are tested, compared to 15% in Madrid, a percentage that has fallen in recent days. Simón said he would meet with health authorities in the Madrid region to understand why this is the case.

Young people out at night in Magaluf on the Balearic island of Mallorca on July 16.
Young people out at night in Magaluf on the Balearic island of Mallorca on July 16.Joan Mateu (AP)

The number of hospitalizations has also risen. According to Thursday’s report, 673 people were admitted into hospital with Covid-19 in the past seven days, compared to 636 on Wednesday. In total, 2,647 coronavirus patients are in hospital in Spain, of whom 292 are in intensive care (ICU). Simón said that, with the exception of Zaragoza in Aragón, which admitted 203 patients in the past week, hospitals in Spain are not under pressure. According to The Economist, Aragón is the region with the highest cumulative incidence of Covid-19 out of all areas in Europe. But Simón said that the number of cases in the region are beginning to stabilize. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 127,815 people have been hospitalized with the coronavirus.

According to Thursday’s report, 41 patients were admitted into ICU in the last seven days, up from 38 on Wednesday. The number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions reflect the evolution and seriousness of the pandemic, but with a delay with respect to new cases, given it can take up to 14 days for a patient to start experiencing symptoms.

This lag also affects the number of fatalities. According to the latest figures, 22 people died in the last week from Covid-19, down from 19 on Wednesday. Given new infections are rising, it would follow that coronavirus-related deaths would also rise. But there is another factor to take into account: the age of Covid-19 patients. According to Simón, the average age fell to below 40 in the last week. Although young people are not immune to the disease, they are more likely to experience less severe cases. This has led to a dramatic drop in the case fatality rate of the coronavirus in Spain (the percentage of people who die from the disease out of total confirmed cases). Simón said that the average in Spain had fallen from more than 10% to under 1% in the last seven days.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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