CORONAVIRUS

Spanish Health Ministry confirms evolution of pandemic worsening

Authorities blame the rise in cases on the relaxation of restrictions between late November and early December

Mass testing in Muro in the Balearic Islands, which has the highest incidence rate in Spain.
Mass testing in Muro in the Balearic Islands, which has the highest incidence rate in Spain.CATI CLADERA / EFE

Spain’s coronavirus incidence rate rose again on Thursday, indicating that there is no longer any doubt that the trend has changed. In 10 regions, the rate is rising and in the remaining nine territories, including the North African exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, it has stabilized. In the coming days, the situation may worsen as a result of contagions from last week’s public holidays, which according to Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), have not yet been reflected in the data. Compounding the situation is the expected rise in cases over the Christmas holiday period, when more travel and gatherings are expected to take place. Speaking at a government press conference on Thursday, Simón warned the upward trend will last until “at least” mid-January or the end of January.

We have to be a lot more careful so that this increase does not bring us back to the levels of October and November
Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts

According to the latest report from the Spanish Health Ministry, which was released Thursday evening, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants now stands at 207. The report registered 12,131 new infections and added 181 Covid-19-related deaths to the official toll. Four regions have an incidence rate above the 250 threshold, which is one of the indicators used by the Health Ministry to classify a situation of “extreme risk.” They are the Balearic Islands (322), Madrid (262), Basque Country (256), Valencia (254) and Castilla-La Mancha (251). But while in the Basque Country the trend is stabilizing, in the other regions it is on the rise.

Simón explained that the trend began to change on December 9, which indicates that there was a spike in contagions “at the end of November and beginning of December” – when coronavirus restrictions were relaxed in most of the regions that are now reporting a rise in the incidence rate. The health official said that this rise “will assuredly be slow,” but warned that the trend will need to be reviewed after the Christmas holiday period.

“After a very favorable period that could nevertheless not be described as a good situation, we now have to be a lot more careful so that this increase does not bring us back to the levels of October and November,” said Simón. “The goal is to minimize the impact.”

Simón did not say whether the rise in cases will be felt in Spain’s intensive care units (ICUs), explaining that it is not yet known whether the new infections were affecting young people or at-risk groups, who are more vulnerable to complications from the virus. According to Thursday’s report, the occupation rate in hospitals remains stable, with Covid-19 patients taking up 9.2% of all hospital beds and 20.4% of all ICU beds in the country.

The Health Ministry registered 12,131 new infections on Thursday and added 181 Covid-19-related deaths to the official toll

With respect to coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period, Simón did not rule out toughening the current plan, which sets a 1.30am curfew for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, limits social gatherings to 10 people and prohibits travel to different regions, save for visits to see family and close friends.

Some regions have already announced stricter measures in a bid to curb contagion rates. The Balearic Islands have introduced new rules for Mallorca, the hardest-hit island of the archipelago. The Canary Islands have brought the curfew forward to 10pm on the island of Tenerife, even on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. In Valencia, the regional government announced on Thursday that only residents returning to their homes will be able to enter the region until January 15. Exceptions will also be made for people coming to work and reasons of force majeure. The curfew in Valencia will also be brought forward and social gatherings limited to six people. And on Friday, the Catalan regional government announced tougher measures for the festive season, including a ban on gatherings between more than two different households.

Other European countries have also decided to toughen Christmas restrictions, such as Germany, where the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants stands at 341. But according to Simón, Spain “is one of the countries with the lowest incidence rate in Europe. And the most drastic measures are not being taken by countries like us or France. Each one is adapting them to their epidemiological situation.” He added: “The option [of a hard lockdown] is there, but we have to think about it a lot before applying it. [...] Christmas will not be canceled, but rather how we celebrate it, if we decide to do so.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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