Spain’s coronavirus incidence rate rises for the first time since end of January

Meanwhile, the percentage of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has fallen below 20% – a rate not seen for months. The Health Ministry has reported 6,092 new cases and added 228 deaths to the official toll

An 88-year-old woman getting her first vaccine dose in Pamplona.
An 88-year-old woman getting her first vaccine dose in Pamplona.Alvaro Barrientos (AP)

Wednesday marked the first time that the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants has risen in Spain since January 27, the day that the third wave of the pandemic peaked. Since that date this key indicator has fallen from 899.93, and yesterday came in at 127.91 according to the latest report from the Health Ministry. The rise from the previous day was barely 0.11 points, which statistically speaking is more of a plateau than an actual rise. But there are doubts as to whether the incidence could start to go up again in Spain or the increase simply marks an oscillation that can be expected when the values hit their minimum.

The problem for the country is that these 127 cases per 100,000 inhabitants are still far from the 50 or 25 that the government set as a target, and that represent the epidemic as being under control. The end of the second wave was clear to see in the data on December 10, when the 14-day cumulative incidence fell to 188.72 with no oscillations seen since it fell from 529.43 on November 9.

“We are in a valley zone,” said Health Minister Carolina Darias on Wednesday, after a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together her ministry and the country’s regional healthcare chiefs. “It’s too early to tell if we are looking at a change in trend,” she insisted, and called for prudence “to avoid a new uptick” similar to those currently being seen in France and Italy.

It’s not about putting in more restrictions, but about complying with them
Health Minister Carolina Darias

The data arrived on Wednesday just a day before San José, Father’s Day, on Friday March 19, which is a holiday in parts of Spain. What’s more, Easter week is just around the corner. Inter-regional mobility is prohibited during these upcoming fiestas, but specialists still expect for there to be a rise in cases after these holiday days. They also fear that the worsening will begin from an incidence level that is already high. Darias insisted on Wednesday that this is a moment of uncertainty. “We have to do our best” to avoid an uptick, she said, but added that there would be no more restrictions introduced over the next few weeks. “It’s not about putting in more [restrictions],” she argued, “but about complying with them.”

The minister reiterated the government’s plan to get the incidence down to 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, and that this should “not just be down to the vaccines.” She went on to call once more for individuals to be responsible.

The minister also pointed to the fact that the progress of the pandemic varies from region to region. On Tuesday, for example, the average incidence across Spain fell despite the fact that it had risen in the majority of regions. This is because two of the three most-populated regions, Madrid and Catalonia, are continuing to see falls in the data point. In Wednesday’s report, however, these two regions along with Andalusia, the third of that group, all saw a rise, causing the tiny increase in the average 14-day incidence. There are now five territories – Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Navarre and the North African exclave city of Melilla – where the incidence has risen compared to a week ago.

The number of daily cases reported also rose, from 4,962 on Tuesday to 6,092 on Wednesday. But this indicator usually oscillates. The seven-day cumulative figure for new infections is not so bad: 34,015 compared to 35,780 a week ago. The official number of infections detected in Spain since the pandemic began is now 3,206,116.

As for Covid-19 deaths, something similar was seen in Wednesday’s report. Yesterday’s figure, 228 new fatalities, was worse than Tuesday’s, which came in at 141. But the seven-day cumulative figure has fallen in a week from 1,672 to 874 in Wednesday’s report. The official death toll now stands at 72,793 victims in Spain.

Symbolically, the best news in Wednesday’s report was the occupation of intensive care unit (ICU) beds by Covid patients, which came in at 19.93%. This indicator had not fallen below 20% since the start of the second wave last summer. The number of coronavirus patients in ordinary hospital beds, meanwhile, also continues to fall, coming in at 6.45% on Wednesday compared to 7.28% a week before.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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