Spain leaves ‘extreme risk’ coronavirus situation, with incidence rate falling to 235 cases per 100,000

The Spanish Health Ministry reported 7,461 new infections on Tuesday and added 443 deaths to the official toll

Health workers treating a Covid-19 patient in Cosaga hospital in Ourense.
Health workers treating a Covid-19 patient in Cosaga hospital in Ourense.Brais Lorenzo (EFE)

Spain has finally left a situation of “extreme risk” due to the coronavirus. According to the latest report from the Health Ministry, released Tuesday evening, the epidemiological curve in the country continues to fall, and the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now at 235. This is below the limit of 250 that the ministry had set as a situation of maximum alert and that indicated that the pandemic was not under control.

Despite this positive news, infections are still being registered by the country’s regions, and the ministry reported 7,461 on Tuesday and added 443 fatalities to the overall death toll. In fact, there is still a danger that the curve could get out of control once more, and the health authorities estimate that to emerge from the risk zone, the cumulative incidence must be pushed below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

February is close to becoming the month with the highest number of fatalities since the first wave

Eleven of the country’s regions are now out of the extreme risk zone: the Balearic and Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia, Valencia, Extremadura, Galicia, Murcia, Navarre and La Rioja. Extremadura is currently showing the best data, and has overtaken the Canary Islands in terms of transmission and is currently showing a cumulative incidence of 96. On the other end of the scale is the Madrid region, with 362, and the North African exclave city of Melilla, with 434.

While the data is improving in Spain, the country is not out of danger. According to the traffic light system approved in October by the central government and the regions to measure the risk of coronavirus transmission, the curve has now shown the latest sign of relief by dropping below 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. But this level, of between 150 and 200 cases per 100,000, is still high risk. And the pressure on the country’s intensive care units (ICUs) continues to be very high with 3,365 critical Covid-19 patients currently receiving treatment. They are occupying 31.5% of the ICU beds across the country. According to the Health Ministry’s traffic light system, more than 20% of ICU beds occupied by such patients also represents a situation of extreme risk.

What’s more, the number of deaths continues to be high and February is close to becoming the month with the highest number of fatalities since the first wave. In April, nearly 15,500 deaths were reported while in November, the peak of the second wave, the figure was 9,191. For February so far, the official Covid death toll is close to 9,000. In the last seven days, 871 were reported.

The most favorable indicators are to be found in the positivity of diagnostic tests, which are at 7.6% according to the latest report – that’s to say, the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive is now just under 8%. The scientific community recommends that this parameter be under 5% for the transmission of the virus to be considered under control. While there are regions where the figure is above 10% – such as Ceuta, Melilla, Aragón and Valencia – positivity in Spain continues to fall and is now at a medium-risk level, according to the Health Ministry.

Despite the good trend in this third wave we are insisting on the need for precautionary measures
María Jesús Montero, government spokesperson

The positive trend of the epidemiological curve also reflects the effectiveness of the social restrictions that have been implemented – to a greater or lesser extent – by the country’s regions, which are in charge of controlling the pandemic as well as their separate healthcare systems.

The central government is calling on the regional governments not to let their guard down and relax these restrictions, but some regions have already begun to announce their own deescalation measures. From Friday, for example, Galicia will allow meetings of up to four people who do not live together and the hostelry sector will start to reopen gradually. The Valencia region, meanwhile, is also considering suspending perimetral lockdowns from March onward. Catalonia, however, has opted to suspend its deescalation after noting a slowdown in the fall of infections.

“Despite the good trend in this third wave we are insisting on the need for precautionary measures,” said government spokesperson María Jesús Montero on Tuesday, after the weekly Cabinet meeting. “Until we have vaccinated 70% of the population we cannot start to relax these measures.” The Spanish government is aiming to hit this target for the inoculations by the summer, an objective that was also cited by the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, during his appearance in the Senate yesterday.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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