CORONAVIRUS

Spain reports first weekend fall in coronavirus cases, but sets new second-wave record for fatalities

According to the latest figures, 52,386 infections have been detected since Friday, while 512 deaths have been added to the official toll

The center of Seville in Andalusia, which has introduced new coronavirus restrictions.
The center of Seville in Andalusia, which has introduced new coronavirus restrictions.PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The number of new weekend coronavirus cases reported in Spain has fallen for the first time in more than a month. According to the Health Ministry’s report, released Monday night, 52,386 new infections were detected since Friday – a figure that covers the weekend, given that no data is released on Saturdays and Sundays. The last time a fall was recorded over this period was October 5. The number of Covid-19 related deaths, however, broke a new record. Since Friday, 512 fatalities have been added to the official toll, the largest weekend figure of Spain’s second wave.

Both data points fall within expectations. Last week, the Health Ministry recorded an apparent change in the upward trend of contagions and the incidence rate of the coronavirus, which fell after rising sharply for four weeks. According to Monday’s report, the incidence rate rose slightly again, with the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants at 529, up from 525 last Friday. The number of fatalities has reached record-highs and is likely to continue to do so in the next few weeks even if the incidence rate falls again. This is because these cases would have contracted the coronavirus between two and three weeks ago, which is the average time it takes for a patient’s condition to worsen. For this reason, there is always a delay between the fall in coronavirus cases and the fall in deaths.

The number of fatalities has reached record-highs and is likely to continue to rise even if the incidence rate falls

Monday marked 15 days since the Spanish government declared a state of alarm and introduced a nighttime curfew across the country, with the exception of the Canary Islands. Since then, several regional authorities have asked the central administration to authorize a home lockdown in a bid to reduce contagions. But the Health Ministry has opted instead to wait and assess whether the current restrictions are working to flatten the curve before introducing tougher measures. The data from the previous few days suggests that the curve is stabilizing, but more observation is needed to confirm the trend.

The incidence rate continues to vary greatly between Spain’s 17 regions. In Catalonia, Navarre and Aragón, as well as the exclave city of Melilla in North Africa – territories which had among the highest incidence rates in Spain – the situation is improving. This is also the case for regions which had better coronavirus figures such as Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Valencia, Extremadura and Galicia. In other regions, however, such as Andalusia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, La Rioja, Basque Country and the exclave city of Ceuta, the coronavirus continues to spread and is reaching alarming levels. In the Basque Country, for example, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants rose to 769 on Monday. This figure also rose in the Balearic and Canary Islands, although these archipelagos have a much more favorable situation than the rest of Spain, especially the latter, which is the only region in Spain with an incidence rate below 100 cases.

The pressure on Spain’s hospitals – another key data point when it comes to making decisions on coronavirus restrictions – also continues to rise. According to Monday’s report, coronavirus patients now occupy 17.2% of all hospital beds and 31% of intensive care (ICU) beds. Coronavirus cases will need to fall for at least a week before these figures stabilize.

We have flattened the curve with measures that are not sustainable in the long term, but if they are relaxed, it will rise again
Alex Arenas, physicist and data expert at Rovira i Virgili University

But it is not yet clear whether transmission will continue to fall. The rise in the incidence rate detected on Monday indicates that Spain may not have reached its peak last week, much less a definitive change in the upward trend. At the beginning of October, Spain saw a drop in the number of new cases but this only lasted a little more than a week. “We have not reached the peak, we determine the peak ourselves with our behavior. The curve always wants to rise. We have flattened it [in some regions] with measures that are not sustainable in the long term, but if they are relaxed, the curve will rise again,” explained Alex Arenas, a physicist and data expert at Rovira i Virgili University.

Spain’s regions have taken a series of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The hostelry industry has been closed in several regions, including Catalonia, Navarre, Castilla y León, and the Basque Country. And in Andalusia, the regional government has confined all municipalities from today until November 23. Under the new restrictions, the hospitality sector and all non-essential activity will have to close at 6pm. In Madrid, however, the regional government has lifted the perimetral lockdown of the region, which was introduced over the previous two long weekends in an effort to restrict non-essential travel. The midnight curfew and six-person limit on social gatherings remain in place.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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