CORONAVIRUS

Spanish Health Ministry reports highest number of coronavirus deaths since May

According to the latest data, 267 fatalities were added to the official toll, which now stands at 35,298

Residents wearing face mask walk along an empty street in Pamplona on October 24.
Residents wearing face mask walk along an empty street in Pamplona on October 24.Alvaro Barrientos / AP

The Spanish Health Ministry added 267 Covid-19 related deaths to the official count in its daily report released on Tuesday. This is the highest number of victims to be reported since Spain entered the second wave of the pandemic. This brings the official toll, which only includes deaths that were confirmed by a PCR or serological test, to 35,298. The real figure may be closer to 60,000. The Health Ministry had not recorded more than 267 deaths since May, when the first wave of the pandemic was on a downward trend. A similar number was also registered on March 20, when Spain first began to see a rise in coronavirus cases. Shortly after, in early April, the number of daily fatalities peaked, with nearly 1,000 recorded each day.

The difference between then and now is that in March, the number of deaths rose at an exponential rate. Between March 13 and 20, the number of coronavirus victims rose from 36 to 235 – a spike of 552% within a week. In the second wave, this figure increased from 218 to 267 within the same period of time – a rise of 22%. These numbers are one of the indicators that highlight the difference between the first and second coronavirus waves in Spain. For example, only 0.8% of coronavirus patients died between May 10 and October 21, according to a report by the Carlos III Health Institute. During the first wave, this figure was 7.9%, based on data collected up to May 11.

In addition to Covid-19, it is likely that the pressure on the health system is leading to increases in mortality due to other problems
Ildefonso Hernández, from the Spanish Association of Public Health and Health Administration

José Martínez Olmos, the former general secretary of the Health Ministry and a professor at the Andalusian School of Public Health, says the number of fatalities is alarming, not only for the tragic loss of human life, but also because it comes as the country’s hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) come under greater strain from the pandemic. “Some hospitals are at the breaking point,” he said.

Ildefonso Hernández, from the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration (Sespas), says that Spain is on track to record more than 60,000 excess deaths by the end of the year, according to the Mortality Monitoring System, known as MoMo, that detects excess mortality rates. This number, however, includes fatalities from all causes – not just Covid-19. According to Hernández, MoMo has detected a 15.5% rise in unexpected deaths between September 1 and October 19. “In addition to Covid-19, it is likely that the pressure on the health system is leading to increases in mortality due to other problems,” said Hernández.

Pedro Gullón, from the Spanish Epidemiology Society, agrees the situation is worrying. “The data over these days are bad, unreservedly so. Cases in almost all of Spain are on the rise and, although the impact is not exactly the same as it was in March, it is beginning to appear that way; let’s hope that it will not be the same.”

The Health Ministry reported 18,418 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the official total to 1,116,738. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Spain now stands at 436.47, up from 410.11 on Monday. This figure has risen with respect to Monday in every Spanish region, except the Canary Islands, where it fell from 77.41 to 76.07. In 11 of the country’s 19 territories (17 regions and two exclave cities), the incidence rate exceeds 400 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In Navarre and the exclave city of Melilla, it is more than 1,000 and continues to rise despite the introduction of new restrictions.

The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Spain now stands at 436.47

Tomás Cobo, the vice president of the Collegiate Medical Organization, confirms that there is a lot of concern about the figures, especially with regard to the occupancy rate in ICUs. A fourth of all ICUs beds are now occupied by a coronavirus patient, and the number keeps rising. On Monday, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), said that the situation in some ICUs will become unsustainable if the upward curve is not flattened.

With coronavirus cases continuing to rise, ICUs can expect to come under more pressure in 15 to 21 days, which is the average time it takes for a coronavirus patient’s condition to deteriorate to the point at which they require intensive care. In six Spanish regions – Aragón, Castilla y León, Catalonia, Madrid, Navarre and La Rioja – more than 35% of ICU beds are taken up by coronavirus patients. Spain’s exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla have also exceeded this threshold.

The positivity rate, i.e. the percentage of PCR tests that come back positive out of the total, continues to rise each day and now stands at 13.26%. A low figure is an indication that the pandemic is under control, because it shows that only a few infections are being detected despite a large number of tests being carried out. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that positivity rates should be below 5% – a threshold that Spain is increasingly far from meeting.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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