[Note: The Health Ministry has since corrected the Wednesday data, and the incidence actually fell slightly rather than rising. Please click here to read the latest story detailing the corrections.]
The trend of the coronavirus pandemic and adjustments to the data after Catalonia was unable to report its figures on Tuesday led to a situation yesterday that many had feared: the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants rose in Wednesday’s Health Ministry report.
This key data point, which is being used to monitor the progress of the health crisis in Spain, came in at 139.59, when on Tuesday it was 139.08. The news has prompted questions as to whether this could be the start of a fourth wave, or whether it is simply one of the usual fluctuations in the curves once they hit their minimum levels.
Wednesday’s report added 13,459 new coronavirus cases to the total, which is a significant rise after Tuesday’s low figure of 4,013
The point at which there was a change from the end of the second wave and the start of the third was seen on December 10, when the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants was 188.72. Back then there was no question about what was happening: the parameter stopped its continuous fall, which began on November 4, and then rose uninterruptedly until January 27, which is six weeks ago, when it reached 899.93 cases.
Wednesday’s report added 13,459 new coronavirus cases to the total, which is a significant rise after Tuesday’s low figure of 4,013, partly attributable to the lack of data from Catalonia. Looking at the seven-day figure, it is clear the trend is a rising one. In the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Extremadura and the North African city of Melilla the incidence rate was up in Wednesday’s report compared to the day before.
The other indicators, meanwhile, are not rising. The number of deaths added to the total in yesterday’s report was 234, the lowest single-day figure since January 8. The official Covid-19 death toll in Spain now stands at 71,961. Hospital occupation by coronavirus patients has fallen from 8.57% to 7.28% in seven days, while for intensive care unit (ICU) beds, the drop has been from 26.26% to 22.89%.
At this point, it is practically impossible to predict how the pandemic will progress in the future. But there is an exercise that can be done with certain guarantees: a forecast of what would happen if the other factors do not change. That is what the National Distance Education University (Uned) has been doing by applying artificial intelligence to the data series so far. The team at Uned, called Precov2, has concluded that if nothing changes, the fall in cases that is currently being registered will continue for around 14 days, until it levels off at about 3,000 cases a day from that point.
A model from Uned predicts that, if nothing changes, the number of deaths will slow down until it reaches around 1,300 a week – which is nearly 200 a day
“The important thing to point out is that this prediction is based on nothing changing,” says the Uned artificial intelligence professor José Luis Aznarte, who led the project. The model is predicting that the incidence will fall in all territories over the next seven days, apart from in the North African city of Ceuta.
The model also predicts that the number of deaths will slow down until it reaches around 1,300 a week. Manuel Franco, the spokesperson for the Spanish Society for Public Health and Healthcare Administration (Sespas), argues that this level – which is nearly 200 deaths a day – should mean that coronavirus restrictions remain in place. Several regions are already starting to relax their measures given the improved epidemiological data.
Aznarte admits that the curve predicted by his model will change with the circumstances, such as the vaccination drive or increased social contact during the upcoming Easter week. But Miguel Ángel Martínez Beneito, a statistics expert from the Spanish Epidemiological Society, believes that given the nature of the pandemic and the time that new cases take to show symptoms and be tested, the progress over the next seven days will be in line with the forecast. Franco, for his part, insists that the incidence is getting to the point where there is a serious risk that the situation will worsen, and points to the vaccine drive and social restrictions as being fundamental to prevent this from happening.
English version by Simon Hunter.