From April 26 onward, the cumulative incidence of the coronavirus in Spain fell bit by bit – almost point by point in the final days. But a new spike, which began timidly last week, is now proceeding at breakneck speed. Thursday’s report from the central Health Ministry showed a 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants of 134, a rise of 17 points on the day before. And the seven-day indicator, which is somewhat less precise due to reporting delays, suggests that the trend will continue on this path.
The weekly figure is at 82 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the report, suggesting that the 14-day number could soon exceed 160. While the incidence is rising among all age groups, the increase is particularly noticeable among young people. For adolescents, aged 12 to 19, the figure is 345 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days – up 63 in a single day. Among the 20 to 29 age group, the number is 367, a rise of 74 compared to a day before.
If we had waited, there would be a lot more people immunized and we would have reached the summer with the figures falling, not risingAlberto Infante, professor at Madrid’s Carlos III Health Institute
The ministry reported 12,345 new cases in total on Thursday, but added just eight Covid-19 victims to the overall death toll. That was the lowest daily number of deaths since August of last year. Seven regions have not reported a single fatality for a week now. In total, there have been 3,821,305 recorded infections in Spain since the pandemic hit, and 80,883 official victims.
This increase in cases has not yet led to a rise in hospital admissions. The number of beds occupied by Covid-19 patients – both regular and in intensive care units (ICUs) – continues to fall, but the decrease is slowing and experts have no doubt that the rise in cases will eventually translate into more admissions. This indicator of the pandemic always takes longer to rise, and while mortality is much lower among young people, a large increase in cases will end up having an effect on the number of Covid-19 patients who need hospital care.
Alex Arenas, a doctor in physics and data expert at the Rovira i Virgili University in Catalonia, argues that the pressure on hospitals will grow, but not as much as during other waves. “Emergency rooms and intensive care units will undoubtedly not be overwhelmed, given that the people affected are younger and less vulnerable,” he explains. “Now there are other problems: primary healthcare centers, which should be focussing on the vaccination campaign, will be overwhelmed dealing with these new cases. The more that the virus is transmitted, the greater the risk of new mutations and we will have more aftereffects of long Covid.” He is referring to the lingering symptoms such as fatigue or muscle pain that some people experience for weeks after having overcome a coronavirus infection.
Arenas points to the more contagious delta variant, first identified in India, as being behind this rapid growth. “We’re seeing here what the United Kingdom suffered a few weeks ago,” he explains. That country has a 14-day incidence of 317 cases, according to Health Ministry data. Portugal is currently at 186 and is the only nearby nation that exceeds Spain for this data point.
Seven regions have not reported a single fatality for a week
The rising trend, meanwhile, is being seen across Europe, which is watching with concern as the delta strain spreads. Hans Kluge, European regional director at the World Health Organization, explained on Thursday that the number of cases rose 10% on the continent last week, driven by an increase in journeys, meetings and the relaxation of social restrictions. Millions of people in Europe are still unvaccinated, he said at a press conference. “Delta overtakes alpha very quickly through multiple and repeated introductions, and is already translating into increased hospitalizations and deaths,” he added.
Alberto Infante, a professor at Madrid’s Carlos III Health Institute, believes that there is a race between the vaccines and the virus, and that “the virus is in the lead once more.” “We have been warning that the deescalation has happened four or six weeks too early,” he says. “If we had waited, there would be a lot more people immunized and we would have reached the summer with the figures falling, not rising, as we are now.”
None of Spain’s regions are at a low-risk level anymore – i.e. with a 14-day incidence below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Castilla-La Mancha has the fewest infections, with a rate of 55, but this figure is also rising. In Catalonia, the data point has shot up to 238 – a spike of 56 points in a single day – and is now the Spanish territory that is heading the ranking in terms of infections detected over two weeks, and very close to the 250-mark considered to be very high risk.
English version by Simon Hunter.