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HEALTH

LATEST: Spain’s coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,000

The coronavirus toll in Spain rose to 1,002 on Friday following the deaths of 235 people in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

LATEST: Spain's coronavirus death toll surpasses 1,000
Members of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) prepare to carry out a general disinfection at El Prat airport in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

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The number of cases also soared to 19,980, after another 2,833 infections were confirmed over the same period, the ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simón said.

According to the latest data, the number of infections has risen by 16.5 percent overnight,  which was a drop from the 25-percent increase registered a day earlier, Simón said.

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But over the past seven days, the number of deaths has risen 10-fold, the figures show.

Since the last update around midday on Thursday, another 2,833 infections have been confirmed, taking the overall number of cases to 19,980, the ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon said.

But he said it was “very likely that the figures underestimated the overall number” of people with the virus, saying the testing laboratories were “overwhelmed” which could skew the numbers.

Of those diagnosed, 52 percent were in hospital and around six percent were being treated in intensive care.

Madrid remains the worst-hit area, accounting for 7,165 cases, or 36 percent of the total infections in Spain, while the number of deaths in the capital rose to 628 — around 63 percent of the national total.

Government figures show that 1,585 cases have recovered, three-quarters of whom are in the Madrid region.

Meanwhile, Madrid and Barcelona announced on Friday they would set up field hospitals in their biggest exhibition halls to deal with the anticipated growth in the number of patients.   

In Madrid, the IFEMA conference centre would be fitted with 5,500 hospital beds, part of it dedicated to an intensive care unit, while a section of the Fira de Barcelona centre would be similarly equipped, city authorities said. 

Over the last few hours, a total of 2,640 troops had disinfected the country's main airports and ports along with retirement homes and prisons, General Miguel Angel Villarroya, chief of the defence staff, told the same news conference.   

On Thursday, police arrested 55 people for not respecting the lockdown that was put in place at the weekend, under which Spain's 46 million population can only leave home to shop for food or medicine, go to the hospital or go to work.

National police chief Jose Angel Gonzalez said there was “a rising trend” in the number of people defying the stay-home order, warned that police were operating with a policy of “zero tolerance”.

Regional authorities in Madrid on Thursday transformed a hotel into a hospital for patients with mild cases of coronavirus to try to keep the health system from being overwhelmed by the pandemic.

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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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