CORONAVIRUS

Spain reports 20,849 new coronavirus cases, adds 535 deaths to official toll over weekend

The 14-day cumulative number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants has fallen, but remains above the 250-threshold considered to indicate a situation of extreme risk

The intensive care unit at Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid.
The intensive care unit at Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid.Sergio R Moreno / GTRES

Spain continues to be on a high level of alert when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. The epidemiological curve is falling, but the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is still above 250 – the limit considered by the Health Ministry to be one of extreme risk.

Keeping the virus under control at these levels is very challenging, and the government is calling on the country’s regions – who are in charge of controlling the pandemic in their territories, as well as managing their health systems – to not let down their guard during any deescalation of the current restrictions.

In its official report on Monday, the ministry registered 20,849 new infections and added 535 Covid-19 fatalities to the official death toll. These figures cover Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

This month so far, there have been 8,555 Covid fatalities, with 814 in just the last seven days

“Our intensive care units [ICUs] and hospitals are at high occupation levels,” said Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), during a press conference on Monday evening to present the latest data. “If we start with rising trends, this would mean a serious setback for our healthcare system.”

Since the beginning of the month, hospital admissions have fallen by half and there are 28% fewer people in the ICUs. But the stress on healthcare centers continues to be high, with a third of ICU beds currently occupied by Covid-19 patients.

“We have 11 regions below 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the progress that we can expect is for this trend to hold steady for the next few days,” Simón continued. “However, we still have high incidences, and from the experience that we have from previous waves, we cannot let our guard down more than is appropriate. Excessive relaxation of the current measures could see us end up with serious problems.”

With 383 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days, the Madrid region is currently in the worst situation, with only the North African exclave city of Melilla presenting worse data, at 435. The Canary Islands, with 109 infections per 100,000 people, have the lowest rates of transmission.

A waiter setting up a sidewalk café in Galicia in October 2020. The region will relax restrictions on the hostelry industry from Friday.
A waiter setting up a sidewalk café in Galicia in October 2020. The region will relax restrictions on the hostelry industry from Friday.Lavandeira jr / EFE

Despite the positive trend, Simón insisted that the risk of a rise in infections is high should the current restrictions be relaxed or if they are not bolstered. That scenario would, once more, lead to a spike in hospital admissions.

According to the Health Ministry, on Monday there were 15,208 Covid-19 patients in Spanish hospitals, 52% down on the figure for February 1. But healthcare centers are still under pressure. More than 3,500 coronavirus patients are currently in ICU beds, which are the scarcest resource during this pandemic. This represents 33% of the total number of ICU beds.

There are regions, however, where the pressure is even greater. In Madrid, for example, 46% of ICU beds are occupied by Covid patients, while the figure is above 40% in Ceuta, Catalonia and Castilla y León.

We still have high incidences, and we cannot let our guard down more than is appropriate
Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts

The effects of the third wave are still being noted in the number of deaths. This month so far, there have been 8,555 Covid fatalities, with 814 in just the last seven days. February may even outstrip November as the month with the most deaths (9,200 were registered in the penultimate month of 2020). Simón stated, however, that the forecast was that the number of fatalities would also fall in the coming days.

The epidemiological outlook in Spain remains highly unstable and the country is on a knife-edge. The Health Ministry and the epidemiologists are calling for caution when it comes to deescalating restrictions, but the regions are pressing ahead with the process regardless. Galicia, where hostelry establishments have been closed for a month and people have been prohibited from meeting unless they do not live together, will relax these measures from Friday. But the premier of the northwestern region, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, warned that “if we have to move backwards, we will do so.”

Murcia has also decided to increase the number of people who do not live together who can meet to four, and has suspended all of the territorial restrictions within the region. Castilla y León has increased the opening hours of its stores and sidewalk cafés to 9.30pm.

The incidence is falling in the whole country, but not at the same speed. In fact, Catalonia has put the brakes on its deescalation after detecting a slowdown in the fall in new infections. Despite having restrictions in place – hostelry can only open with limited capacity and for breakfast and lunch – the figures are not falling as they were two weeks ago. In fact, the transmission rate of the virus, of the R number, is now at 0.95, very close to the limit that the authorities consider for the pandemic to be under control. Pressure on hospitals remains high in Catalonia and the regional health chief, Alba Vergés, warned on Monday during an interview with regional TV station TV3 that a rise in infections would be a serious problem right now. “The risk of a fourth wave while in this situation is very dramatic,” she said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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