What is Spain doing to contain coronavirus?

What is Spain doing to contain coronavirus?
Photos: AFP
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Spain has soared to 230 by Thursday midday with three mortalities.

New cases across Spain means the COVID_19 virus has now been detected in all the regions bar Murcia and the city enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.

But Spain has so far decided not to raise the emergency health alert beyond the first level 1- which is containment – and at this stage has ruled out closing schools and colleges, a measure taken in Italy.

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So what measures has Spain introduced?

Spain’s government insisted on Thursday morning that it is monitoring the evolution of the coronavirus across the country and taking all necessary measures recommended by health experts.

“We are constantly monitoring the situation, providing transparency of information and decision-making according to scientific evidence available,” said a spokesman from Moncloa on Thursday.

On Wednesday the Employment ministry issued guidelines for companies concerning the coronavirus and keeping staff safe from it.

The recommendations included a protocol for sending staff home as soon as a risk was detected and alerting medical authorities

Certain special measures are in place to prevent collapse of key sectors.

Medical staff

The health ministry earlier in the week called for all medical conferences to be cancelled in Spain as a measure to ensure maximum staff availability during the health crisis.

More than 200 hospital staff are currently under quarantine across Spain, half of them in the Basque Country where outbreaks detected at the Txagorritxu and Santiagohospitals in Vitoria.

Other health workers have been quarantined in Valencia, Madrid and Seville.

The Basque Country has made an urgent appeal for extra doctors to cover those who are on “sick leave” as a result of the quarantine.

Hospitals where an outbreak has been detected have imposed extra strict measures, beyond the usual frequent hand washing, gloves and face masks required by medical staff.

Full PPE suits are used by medical staff in close contact with patients who test positive for the virus and in Txagorritxu, where there are 14 confirmed cases, the cafeteria has been closed, staff are told to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between each other and all meetings unless priority are to be conducted via videoconference.

Air-traffic controllers

Anxious to ensure that the safety of Spain’s airspace is not threatened by an outbreak, authorities have made special provisions for its air traffic controllers.

Acknowledging that it would only take one positive coronavirus in the air traffic control tower to force the entire workforce of that airport tower to be signed off, and therefore the airspace closed, extra care is being taken.

No external staff are allowed to enter the tower and all international travel by air traffic controllers has been banned.

Air traffic controllers are being told to be extra vigilant in washing their hands, using tissues to cough or sneeze, and disinfecting work surfaces.

Why aren’t the schools closed?

So far three children have tested positive to the virus, and although their schools have been alerted and informed parents, they remain open.

Fernando Simón, chief of emergency health care in Spain, urged for calm:

“This virus affects children in a very mild way. After studying the cases of China, check that the lethality has been zero in children up to 8 years old and 0.2% in people between 9 and 20 years old. ”

He insisted that to close the schools at this stage would not help limit the spread of the coronavirus and would cause widespread disruption that would not be productive.

Instead those schools where cases have been detected have informed parents to look out for symptoms and if detected then to keep their children at home.

Teachers have been told to insist on frequent handwashing among pupils and to teach them the correct way to do it. 

 

Working from home

The Employment Ministry on Wednesday issued official guidelines concerning coronavirus protocol.

It explained how companies should prevent contagion among their staff by arranging working at home and videoconferencing in those sectors where it is possible without too much disruption to productivity.

It also stated that if a real risk is detected – such as one of the workforce tested positive to the virus –  then authorities should  be alerted and employees immediately be sent home to self-isolate.

It also stated that staff have a right to make the decision to leave their place of work if they detect a “serious and imminent” risk of contagion, but this must be based on proper assessment and not just a feeling of panic.

READ ALSO Coronavirus: What are the rules in Spain for self-isolation and working from home in Spain?

Cancelling crowded events

Spain has so far stopped short of cancelling events where large crowds gather, except a few sporting events.

Las Fallas, the hugely popular fiesta in Valencia has been taking place all week with no restrictions and on Sunday International Women’s Day marches are expected to take place in towns and cities across Spain without restrictions.

Fernando Simón, the head of health emergency in Spain issued this message: “I would ask that anyone who has respiratory symptoms, to not go to mass events. But this recommendation is not only applicable to the coronavirus, it should be recommended at all times”.

However, some sporting events will be played behind closed doors.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, announced a recommendation that sports matches that will attract crowds from high-risk areas such as north Italy, Iran, China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore be played behind closed doors.

These include the ChampionsLeague match between Valencia and Atalanta on March 19th to avoid Italian fans from an affected area arriving in Spain.

Restrictions on travel

Spain has recommended that travellers do not visit four zones in Italy  Italia: Lombardy, Véneto, Piamonte, Emilia-Romaña, as well as imposing restrictions on  travel to China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

And for anyone who has been to those areas and who experiences symptoms within 14 days of returning to self-isolate ad call 112. 

 

Meanwhile, Israel listed Spain among those countries whose visitors must undergo mandatory quarantine on arrival in the country.

Israel said on Wednesday that it would be sending arrivals from five EU countries into immediate quarantine in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Israelis returning from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland were instructed to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days after their last day in those countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a Health Ministry press conference.

While foreign citizens arriving from those countries will not be allowed into Israel unless they can show a proven ability to self-quarantine at a home during their stay.

The decision applied retroactively to all who have come from those nations in the last 14 days.

Advice to stay safe

  • The authorities insist the best way to prevent infection is the frequent washing of hands.
  • They also reiterate that covering your mouth with hand or crook of arm when coughing or sneezing, or even better by using a tissue and then disposing of it responsibly will help reduce infection.
  • Those with symptoms who think they are at risk of coronavirus (because they have travelled to a hotspot or had contact with someone who has tested positive) should self-isolate and contact 112 or their regional designated coronavirus hotline (list of numbers here).
  • Do not go to the hospital.
  • Above all, health authorities are insisting that wearing a face mask if you are healthy and not caring for someone with the virus is not necessary and that hoarding them is causing a severe shortage among those who actually need them.

 

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