COVID-19

Coronavirus cases in Spain top one million as pandemic accelerates

Country becomes first in Western Europe to hit symbolic figure while daily reported cases reach new record

A Covid-19 patient is attended to by a medical worker in a Spanish hospital.
A Covid-19 patient is attended to by a medical worker in a Spanish hospital.Marcial Guillén / EFE

Spain on Wednesday became the first Western European country to surpass the symbolic threshold of one million coronavirus cases. The cumulative case load since the start of the pandemic now stands at 1,005,295 infections based on PCR and antigen tests. This figure represents a 10.7% rise from a week ago.

The advance of the coronavirus pandemic in Spain is not slowing down – in fact, it is accelerating. On Wednesday, regional governments reported 16,973 new cases, a new record in terms of daily notifications.

Practically every territory of Spain is seeing increased virus incidence compared with a week ago, with two exceptions: the Canary Islands and Madrid. In the latter region, the cumulative 14-day incidence has dropped from 784.71 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on September 29 to 432.26 this past Wednesday. Madrid’s incidence rate had been falling steadily every day for the last week, but experienced a small spike again between Tuesday (431.94) and Wednesday (432.26).

In the northern region of Navarre, which is closing its borders tonight in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, the cumulative 14-day incidence rate has reached a record 1,021 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. A week ago, this figure stood at 774.06.

Only the Canary Islands has a 14-day incidence rate of under 100 (it sits at 81.13); there are four territories with rates between 100 and 200, one between 200 and 300 (Asturias), six between 300 and 400, and two between 400 and 500.

On June 21, when Spain emerged from a prolonged lockdown and deescalation process, the national average 14-day incidence rate was 8.08, and no region had a figure in excess of 20.

No visible effect

For the moment at least, the tighter measures recently adopted by some regions have not had a visible effect. This may be because cases take around 10 days to be detected after an infection. Or it could also be the case that the measures are proving insufficient against generalized community transmission.

In statements to the television station La Sexta, Joan Carles March, who teaches at the Andalusian School of Public Health, put forward a third explanation: that measures have simply been adopted too late.

All other indicators confirm that the situation is getting worse. The positivity rate, or percentage of PCR tests that come back positive out of the total number of tests, has risen from 10.8% to 12.4% in one week. Only the small northern region of Asturias has a rate of under 5%, which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers a threshold for having the pandemic under control.

Pressure on the healthcare system is also rising. There are 13,638 patients hospitalized for Covid-19, representing 11.51% of all available beds and a 17% rise from a week ago. There are 1,930 coronavirus patients in intensive care, compared with 1,652 a week ago, for a rise of 16.82%.

In four Spanish territories – the regions of Madrid and Castilla y León, plus the exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa – Covid-19 patients are occupying over 35% of intensive care beds. A week ago, only Madrid and Ceuta were in that situation. But if hospital admissions for all causes are taken into account, the picture that emerges is that many hospitals in Spain are starting to have problems.

English version by Susana Urra.

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