Health Ministry voices doubts about improved coronavirus data from Madrid

The number of confirmed infections in Spain now exceeds 800,000, while 139 new fatalities have been added to the total since Friday

A man wears a mask outside Atocha train station in Madrid on Monday.
A man wears a mask outside Atocha train station in Madrid on Monday.Mariscal (EFE)
Elena G. Sevillano

Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa and the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), Fernando Simón, last night questioned the improving coronavirus data coming from the Madrid region during one of their regular press conferences to offer an update on the pandemic.

On Monday, Madrid reported a cumulative incidence of the virus of 586.6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last two weeks, compared to 692.1 on Friday. Both Simón and Illa stated on Monday night that there is an issue of late notification of the cases, combined with the fact that the results of new rapid antigen tests are not being adequately accounted for.

“There are specific areas of Madrid that are improving and others that are not,” explained Simón when questioned by journalists last night, after having attended a meeting of the government’s Covid-19 Monitoring Committee, which is chaired by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE). “I’m not going to get into any kind of public dispute with the Madrid region,” added the health minister. “If mobility needs to be further restricted, that is a decision that Madrid has to take. We have some doubts about the delay in notifications and the antigen tests,” he continued.

Health Minister Salvador Illa (l) and CCAES directo Fernando Simón at a press conference on Monday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa (l) and CCAES directo Fernando Simón at a press conference on Monday. Jes˙s HellÌn; Jesús Hellín (Europa Press)

On Friday, the Madrid regional government reluctantly introduced a perimetral lockdown, among other measures, in 10 cities, including the Spanish capital. It was obliged to do so by a central government order, one that it is challenging in the courts. There has been ongoing friction between the two administrations in recent weeks, with the regional government – run by the conservative Popular Party (PP) in coalition with center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and propped up by far-right Vox – fiercely opposed to stricter coronavirus measures on the basis that they would cause further damage to Madrid’s economy. The epidemiological situation in the region, however, has rapidly worsened in recent weeks and, as it was during the first wave of the virus, it is once again the epicenter of the health crisis in Spain.

Fernando Simón explained on Monday evening that when there are fewer new infections in Spain the public health services are able to report cases within 24 or 48 hours, “but as the precocity has increased, this period has done so too.” Some regions, he continued, “have a delay of up to seven or eight days. This is due to the pressure on the people who have to make the notifications. The ideal situation is for there to be falls in real incidence and that this is not simply as a result of notifications.”

The Health Ministry yesterday reported 23,480 new coronavirus cases since Friday, given that no data is supplied over the weekend. This was down from last Monday’s figure of 31,785. The total number of confirmed infections since the pandemic took hold now stands at 813,412. There have also been 139 new Covid-19-related deaths added to the total, bringing the official number of victims in Spain to 32,225. This figure, however, does not include the thousands of people who died between March and April without undergoing a PCR test. According to data from Spain’s civil registries, there have been 53,000 excess deaths in the country between March and September.

“We continue to be very worried, the coming weeks are going to be very tough,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa, insisting that the objective is to “flatten the curve” and that this “will not be easy.” He added: “It is only fair to convey our gratitude to those regions who are anticipating events and are taking decisive action as a preventive measure.” On Monday the regional government of Castilla y León announced that it was confining the cities of León and Palencia given the rising coronavirus cases there.

The city of Palencia, which has been confined due to the rising number of coronavirus cases.
The city of Palencia, which has been confined due to the rising number of coronavirus cases.almudena alvarez (EFE)

The occupation of Spain’s intensive care units (ICUs) continues to be high, with Covid-19 patients occupying 18.3% of beds, compared to 18% on Friday. Madrid is in the worst situation, with 41.54% of ICU beds taken up by coronavirus patients. Simón also warned that the incidence of the disease among the over-60s has risen between 15 and 20%, which increases the probability of hospital admissions going up.

Simón explained that the cumulative incidence of coronavirus cases over 14 days is falling, from 269 cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 254 cases on Monday. But he warned that these continue to be “high figures.” The region with the highest cumulative incidence is currently Navarre, with 684 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Madrid with 587.

To put these figures into context, it emerged on Monday that Paris was putting new measures into place today based on a cumulative incidence of 260 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days, which, multiplied by two to enable comparison with the aforementioned figures for Spain, comes in at 520 cases. The French capital will be closing all bars, gyms and swimming pools. In Madrid, meanwhile, businesses such as bars, restaurants and cafés remain open albeit with capacity restrictions and earlier closing times.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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