Spain rules out mandatory vaccination as coronavirus incidence jumps 17 points

Catalonia has confirmed two infections of the omicron variant, and is registering high demand for vaccines as ‘Covid passport’ comes into force

A healthcare worker prepares to PCR Covid-19 test in Barcelona.
A healthcare worker prepares to PCR Covid-19 test in Barcelona.JOSEP LAGO (AFP)
Madrid -

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 14,500 new coronavirus infections and added 42 Covid-19 related fatalities to the overall death toll on Thursday evening. In its latest report on the pandemic, the ministry also communicated a further rise in the cumulative incidence of infections over the previous 14 days. That data point, which has been steadily rising for several weeks now, shot up another 17 points to 234 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

In terms of the country’s regions, Navarre in northern Spain continues to top the table, with a cumulative incidence of 676 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days. Next is the neighboring Basque Country, with 552, followed by Aragón, with 435. According to Thursday’s report, the incidence rose in all territories, apart from Castilla-La Mancha, and in all age groups – in particular among the under-12s, who are yet to be vaccinated.

As for the pressure on Spain’s hospitals, the ministry report detailed 4,093 patients currently being treated for Covid-19, 136 more than the day before. This rise is mirrored in the numbers for intensive care units (ICUs), where the occupation rate rose three-tenths of a point in yesterday’s report to 8.4% of the total.

According to the data supplied by the Health Ministry, unvaccinated people aged between 60 and 80 have 14 times more risk of death from Covid-19 than the vaccinated, and 23 times more risk of ending up in the ICU.

In total, 5,189,220 coronavirus infections have been officially recorded since the pandemic began, and 88,122 have died after contracting the virus.

Vaccination

The latest data from the Health Ministry about the country’s vaccination campaign shows that 66% of the over-70s have received a booster shot of a Covid-19 vaccine so far – that’s nearly 4.5 million people. What’s more, 79.3% of Spain’s entire population is now fully vaccinated, while 80.9% have received at least one shot. Since the campaign began in late December of 2020, the country’s regions have administered 76,899,564 doses.

Speaking on Thursday, the health minister, Carolina Darias, ruled out making vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory in Spain give the already very high vaccine coverage among the population and the availability of other efficient tools to combat the virus.

“I understand why countries with a low vaccine coverage are planning it,” Darias stated. “But in Spain, we are one of the leading countries for vaccination in Europe and the world, including inoculations with a third dose.” She added that the other tools being used in Spain include “masks being mandatory inside and outside when safe distance cannot be maintained.”

Vaccines for children

Spain will receive 1.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines meant for children in December, followed by another two million in January. This amount will be sufficient to administer the first doses to practically all children in the country aged between five and 11 (who number 3.3 million). This group, which is still unvaccinated, is likely to be the next in line for the shots as part of Spain’s ongoing campaign, according to Health Minister Carolina Darias.

Before the process can begin, however, a strategy will have to be approved. The European Medicines Agency has approved the injections among this age group, but the board of experts advising the government on the campaign is yet to state its position on the plan.

That said, both the health minister and regional healthcare chiefs are assuming that the plan will be approved, and that the vaccines can be administered from December 13 onward, when the first doses arrive.

Omicron variant

The Catalonia region on Thursday confirmed that it had detected two cases of the recently identified omicron strain, which is thought to be more transmissible than the currently dominant delta variant. The patients had both recently returned from South Africa, which is where omicron was first detected. They have been in isolation since Monday after testing positive for the coronavirus on arrival at Barcelona airport. So far in Spain, three omicron cases have also been identified in Madrid – two among recent arrivals from South Africa and one with no connection to travel from the south of Africa – and two in the Balearic Islands, also both in travelers who had arrived from South Africa.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned on Thursday that the preliminary data available suggest that the omicron variant appears to have a “substantially” greater capacity for transmission compared to delta. According to the ECDC’s mathematical modeling, this suggests that “in a few months” the recently discovered strain could cause “more than half of the cases” of coronavirus across the continent.

Catalonia

The implementation in the northeastern Catalonia region of the so-called “Covid passport,” which will be necessary from today for those over 13 wanting to enter bars, restaurants, care homes, gyms and nightlife venues, caused long lines on Thursday outside vaccination sites in Barcelona. At the Fira de Barcelona conference center, for example, there was a queue that snaked outside for about 500 meters. The day before, there were moments of tension when healthcare staff informed people waiting that there were not enough doses for everyone there.

“We are having problems managing the demand at the sites where you don’t need an appointment,” explained on Thursday the director of the CatSalut health department, Gemma Craywinckel.

The regional government in Catalonia is recommending that people secure appointments via the CatSalut website rather than turning up at the mass-vaccination sites. In the last week, the region has administered more than 30,000 first doses compared to 11,000 during the first seven days of November.

The crowds seen at the vaccination points are causing logistical problems for the health department. Catalonia had to throw away more than 60,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines after the summer, given that they had expired due to lower demand than expected.

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