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HEALTH

How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Spain?

Spain is currently a coronavirus free zone, although several people are under observation as potential carriers after recent travel to northern Italy, where 154 people have currently tested positive for the virus and four have died. (This article is not behind a paywall)

How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Spain?
Work by graffiti artist TV Boy, called ‘Mobile World Virus’ in reference of the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Photos: AFP

Is there cause for alarm in Spain too?

Spanish health authorities are urging citizens to remain calm amid alarm that the virus has spread in Italy, where eleven towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto have now been shuttered in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

In Spain’s northern region of the Basque Country, two people who recently returned from Italy have been hospitalized and are under observation for Covid-19. So far tests on them both have been negative but they will be isolated and observed to make sure it does not develop.

In La Rioja, a woman who recently attended a footwear fair in Milan is also being investigated as a potential case.

NEW UPDATES:

Have there been any confirmed cases in Spain?


A masked woman exits Son Espases hospital in Mallorca where one of two cases in Spain was treated. Photo: AFP
 

Yes, Spain has had two confirmed cases of coronavirus but both patients have now been given the all clear.

The first case confirmed in Spain was on the Canary Island of La Gomera where a German tested positive on arrival after coming in contact with a person back home in Germany who subsequently confirmed as suffering from the virus.

The tourist was given the all clear and discharged from hospital after two weeks and the five others in his group who were isolated in case of contagion did not develop the virus.

The other confirmed case was of a British man in Mallorca who had been among a group of skiers at a chalet in France infected by a businessman who had caught the virus on a trip to Singapore.

The man, a father of two was isolated at Palma's Son Espases hospital but discharged last week.  

A group of 21 Spaniards who were caught in the Chinese city of Wuhan, at the epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic, had been flown home on January 31st and spent 14 days quarantined at a Madrid military hospital but have since also been discharged.

What do health authorities in Spain say?

Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s centre for alert and emergency coordination at the Health Ministry gave a press conference on Sunday explaining that Spain has prepared measures to cope with a outbreak, but urged calm.

“It is a situation that worries us and we will have to see how it evolves,” said Simón. “Due to our contact with Italy, Iran and South Korea, we need to have a highly sensitive system in order to react if any suspicions arise.”

He said: “We must be prepared for when the situation changes,” but confirmed that at this time there were no plans to close Spain’s borders, place restrictions on flights or cancel events where large crowds were expected.

While Venice has cancelled its carnival celebrations this year, parades will still take place across Spain.

The health ministry said it would no longer be reporting every time it carried out a test on a suspected case of coronavirus but would only be makingit public once a test had come back positive. 

What about the World Mobile Congress cancellation?

Organisers of the World Mobile Congress took the difficult decision to cancel the world's top mobile trade fair, which was due to start this week, after tech firms pulled out amid fears over the coronavirus.

But government authorities insisted the decision had been taken by the organisers not because there was an actual public health risk.

Regional health minister Alba Verges had tried in vain to reassure participants insisting that the only epidemic in Barcelona “is an epidemic of fear”.

But the event was cancelled 11 days before it was due to start.

“The GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” a statement from GSMA said.

The decision was taken after industry giants including Vodafone, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom, Britain's BT and Rakuten of Japan had all pulled out, following in the footsteps of Intel, Facebook, Cisco and China's Vivo.

The companies all sited travel concerns as the epidemic grew.

But the decision to cancel was not a popular one and dealt an estimated $500 million blow to the local economy.

Are we facing a global pandemic? 

The World Health Organization chief said on Monday that the world should be working harder to contain the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, and should be preparing for a “potential pandemic”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that so far, the WHO does not consider the outbreak that has killed more than 2,600 people a pandemic, but said countries should be “doing everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic.”

What to do if you have coronavirus symptoms? 

Spain health authorities have issued recommendations for those in Spain who may have travelled to areas where the virus is active, such as China or northern Italy, or may have been in contact with others who have.

It recommends that you continue life normally but be extra vigilant for the appearance of possible symptoms.

So if you experience symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, such as a cough, fever, shortness of breath or general flu-like symptons then instead of visiting you health centre, you are advised to stay at home, isolate yourself from others in the house by maintaining a distance of at least one metre and then call the emergency number 112.

Samur, which operates emergency health services in Madrid said that by calling 112 you will be refered to an emergency department at the hospital who will guide you on the next step if they suspect it is likely that you may have come into contact with coronavirus.

READ MORE: 

 

Coronavirus: The everyday precautions to take if you're in Spain

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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