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COVID-19

Where in Spain hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed

Spain’s health ministry has warned that seven Spanish regions are struggling to cope with the complete saturation of their ICU facilities due to their high volume of coronavirus patients in serious condition.

Where in Spain hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed
Photo: AFP

Intensive care units in seven Spanish autonomous communities are operating “at full capacity” and three other regions are also on the verge of the complete saturation of all their hospital ICUs. 

Fernando Simón, Spain’s health ministry's emergencies coordinator, made the announcement on Sunday as Spaniards woke up to the news of yet another record number of people dying from the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours – 838.

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Despite Simón's refusal to reveal which Spanish regions have the greatest shortage of hospital beds, ministry data reveals which “comunidades autónomas” are the most stretched.

Madrid, which currently has 1,429 coronavirus patients in ICU, is the region with hospitals under most pressure, followed by Catalonia with 1,391.

Castilla-La Mancha with 299 and Castilla y León with 278 – two of Spain’s regions with the country's most elderly population – are also struggling to cope with this unprecedented rise in ICU patients.

Spain’s Basque Country region with 271, La Rioja with 43 and Navarra with 75 complete the list.

“We need to prevent new admissions in the ICU in a few days,” Simón stated, whilst explaining that the average time period Covid-19 patients spend in the intensive care unit is longer than usual.

“We’re trying to ensure that these limits are not exceeded so that ICUs aren’t brought to a standstill.”

Since the beginning of Covid-19’s rapid surge in Spain, health workers have feared that the lack of hospital beds would only contribute to an already dire fatality rate.

The number of confirmed cases in Spain has now reached 78,797 — after an increase of 9.1 percent in one day — as the country battles the world's second most deadly outbreak. The number is fast approaching the figure of 81,400 in China, where the virus originated.

Spain is now one of the most heavily hit countries due to the virus, with more deaths than any other nation besides Italy. The number of dead in Spain is now more than 6,500.

Except for a brief lull recorded on Thursday, Spain's death toll has been rising daily.

However, officials have pointed to a slower growth rate for both deaths and confirmed cases and expressed hope that the peak of the outbreak was approaching.

Spain also reported Sunday that 14,709 people had been cured of COVID-19, a rise of 19.7 percent in 24 hours.
 

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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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