Spain’s central Health Ministry reported 93,822 new coronavirus infections on Monday, as well as adding 767 fatalities to the overall death toll. The figures, which account for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, represent new record highs – for the entire pandemic in the former case, and for this third wave of the crisis in the latter.
Presenting the figures on Monday evening, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), warned that Spain must “urgently” relieve the pressure on the country’s hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs), which are in a “critical situation.”
The only good news that could be found from Simón’s presentation last night was that the country is likely to have reached the peak of this third wave on January 17, and since then the number of new cases is falling slowly – delays in notifications from the regional healthcare systems mean that there is a lag in the change in trend from being noted.
The more contagious B.1.1.7 coronavirus strain first identified in the United Kingdom could now “account for 5%” of diagnosed cases in Spain
“Our ICUs cannot take much more of what they are having to deal with,” said the government’s chief epidemiologist. “We will have to make an effort to ramp up the control measures. Twenty days have passed since the Christmas holidays [the Kings’ Day holiday was on January 6] and we have observed a very sharp rise since the end of the year. Transmission is not cut off immediately. We can interpret that after this peak the fall will be much slower.”
Nine of the country’s regions, including all of those with the biggest population levels, exceed 30% occupation by Covid patients in their ICUs. Seven are above 40%, with Catalonia and Madrid nearing 50%, Castilla-La Mancha at 53%, Valencia at 61% and La Rioja at 64%.
In practice, this means that for some days now the most seriously ill patients are being treated in operating theaters and other areas that have been converted into ICUs within a health system that is overloaded and that is having to leave practically everything else to one side in order to deal with the pandemic.
“We are suffering the highest occupation since the first wave,” Simón warned, pointing out that while there have been “improvements” in treatment since last year, “average stays in ICUs are 20 to 21 days,” meaning that measures are needed to slow down the new admissions and give the units some respite.
The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now at 885 across Spain, and six regions are in excess of 1,000: Valencia, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Murcia and La Rioja. Two of the country’s most-populated regions, Andalusia and Madrid, are above 900. This key data point is continuing to rise, given that it covers the last two weeks. As Simón pointed out last night, the slight decreases in new infections in recent days have little effect yet on the overall 14-day incidence given the sharp rises seen previously.
Our ICUs cannot take much more of what they are having to deal withFernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts
As Simón explained, flattening the curve is only the first of the tough challenges that must be overcome before the third wave can be left behind. Now, hospitals will have to manage the ongoing rise in new admissions, which could last another two or three weeks, before they get any relief. The Health Ministry is also taking for granted that Covid deaths – which have been in excess of 200 a day, regardless of notification delays – will continue to rise, given that this is “the last indicator” that will reflect a change in trend.
Simón added last night that the more contagious B.1.1.7 coronavirus strain first identified in the United Kingdom late last year could now “account for 5%” of diagnosed cases, a rate that could be “even higher in some areas.” This is much higher than had been reported until now by the ministry, which has been insisting that the influence of the new variant on the current rise in cases is minimal.
As to whether a new home confinement like the one in place last spring is necessary once more, Simón pointed out that “many regions are already applying a de facto [lockdown],” given that in a lot of territories “there are few options” in terms of going out of the house apart from “doing the shopping.” On Monday, Galicia became the latest area of Spain to close down bars and restaurants.
The CCAES director also had a word of complaint on Monday night about the “parties” that have been seen via social media in recent days as well as the lack of compliance with the restrictions currently in force. “We need to put in collective measures that can be controlled,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of examples whereby, if there is no external control, it appears that people are not complying,” he continued. “I consider this to be a great shame.” He also pointed out that “before long,” all of the most vulnerable population in Spain will have received the Covid-19 vaccine.
English version by Simon Hunter.