The Spanish Health Ministry added 435 coronavirus deaths to the official toll on Tuesday, the highest single-day figure recorded since Spain entered the second wave of the pandemic. The number, however, is still far from the nearly 1,000 daily victims that were registered at the peak of the first wave, between the end of March and the beginning of April. The total death count now stands at 41,688, but studies from the Carlos III Health Institute and Spain’s National Statistics Institute suggest that the real figure is closer to 60,000.
According to the Health Ministry report, released on Tuesday, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 now stands at 465.86. This data point has been on a downward trend since November 6. More than 1.5 million infections have been detected since the beginning of the pandemic, with the total reaching 1,510,023 on Tuesday.
Patricia Guillem, an epidemiologist at the Valencia European University, says the number of deaths is a reflection of the spike in coronavirus cases detected three weeks ago. The expert believes the fatality figures may fall in the following weeks as new infections stabilize, but explained that “this depends on the characteristics of the people who are admitted to hospitals and if they belong to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, or patients with pre-existing chronic conditions.”
“We are worried about the number of deaths,” added Guadalupe Fontán, a nurse specializing in healthcare management and planning. “Although the number of diagnosed cases and the incidence rate have improved in several regions, the consequences for society continue to be dramatic. Perhaps knowing the disaggregated data on detected cases, hospitalizations, by age group and population would give us more information to control other relevant aspects.”
Although the number of diagnosed cases and incidence rate have improved in several regions, the consequences for society continue to be dramaticGuadalupe Fontán, specialist nurse in healthcare management and planning
Between Monday and Tuesday, the incidence rate fell in several territories, with Catalonia (-7.37%), the North African exclave cities of Ceuta (-5%) and Melilla (-5.47%) and Navarre (-8.06%) recording the biggest drops. In the same 24-hour period, the rate rose only slightly in the Balearic Islands (1.54%), the Canary Islands (2.01%, but the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 in the region remains low at 82.8), Valencia (3.93%) and Madrid (4.42%).
But the difference between the incidence rate over the last week is a better reflection of the overall trend. If the figure from Tuesday is compared to the one reported last Tuesday, the rate is seen to have risen in Asturias (22.71%), Cantabria (8.17%), Valencia (8.07%) and the Basque Country (4.19%), while remaining practically stable in the Canary Islands (0.11%). And it dropped in Navarre (-40.28%), Melilla (39.36%), Catalonia (-27.68%) and Aragón (26.84%).
In a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the Valencia region, Castilla-La Mancha and Cantabria decided on Tuesday to keep their perimeters sealed after first closing them in late October. Navarre made a similar decision on Monday. Catalonia, in contrast, announced a deescalation plan to lift the region’s coronavirus restrictions, which are among the strictest in Spain. From Monday, bars and restaurants – which have been closed for more than a month – will be allowed to open at 30% capacity until 5pm.
Although the national incidence rate has fallen it is still far from what is considered an acceptable level – 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. For this reason, most regional governments in Spain have decided to keep in place the current measures aimed at curbing contagions.
Since the state of alarm was declared in October, regional authorities have implemented a range of measures including the perimetral lockdowns of regional borders, cities and/or healthcare areas, limits on capacity, the closure of the hostelry sector and limits on social gatherings. Given that cases are still rising in some regions, it is difficult to tell which restrictions are working. But, as Health Minister Salvador Illa has said on many occasions, any rule that reduces social contacts helps to curb contagions.
The number of coronavirus patients admitted to hospitals has also fallen. According to Tuesday’s report, this figure stood at 20,007, down from 20,452 on Monday and 20,943 last week. Covid-19 patients now occupy 16.13% of all hospital beds. Since the beginning of the crisis, 179,226 patients have been hospitalized with the disease. Hospitals in Asturias and Castilla y León are facing the greatest pressure, with the occupancy rate at 30% and 25%, respectively.
The situation in Spain’s intensive care units (ICUs) has also slightly improved. According to the latest figures, coronavirus patients occupy 32.21% of ICUs, down from 32.8% on Monday. But in seven of Spain’s 19 territories (17 regions and two exclave cities), the occupancy rate remains above 40%, meaning that many hospitals are at their maximum operating capacity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 15,040 coronavirus patients have been admitted into ICUs.
Tuesday’s report also registered a fall in the positivity rate i.e. the percentage of tests that come back positive for coronavirus out of the total. This figure has fallen from 13.14% to 11.54% in a week. The positivity rate in the Balearic Islands, Galicia and Madrid is below 7%, and less than 4% in the Canary Islands. A figure of 5% is considered a sign that the spread of the disease is under control.
English version by Melissa Kitson.