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HEALTH

‘Worst moment of my life’ says Spanish 29-year-old coronavirus survivor

After 10 difficult days laid up in hospital, 29-year-old Javier Lara has finally managed to fight off the virus that has so far killed more than 10,000 people across Spain.

'Worst moment of my life' says Spanish 29-year-old coronavirus survivor
A healthcare worker puts gloves on at a hotel that has been transformed into a hospital in Barcelona. Photo: AFP

When he had the first symptoms he felt sheer “panic”, wondering if he'd passed the virus on to his eight-week-old daughter.   

Despite his youth, his healthy lifestyle and the fact he had no underlying medical problems, it was “not an easy experience,” he said.   

“Can you imagine, you're someone who is 29, who plays sports, doesn't smoke and hardly ever goes to the doctor, and you're in intensive care with oxygen and no-one from your family is allowed to see you,” he said. “It's quite a shocking situation.”   

Lara, who lives in Seville, is one of a growing number of people who have recovered across Spain.

Spain has the world's second-highest death toll after Italy, with the virus so far claiming 10,003 lives and the number of confirmed cases topping 110,000.   

That a 29-year-old should be so badly affected is unusual, with the vast majority of patients in hospital aged 60 and over.   

Another man taken to same hospital at the same time as him — a 70-year-old American tourist — died just a few days later, his body held in the morgue for more than a week before his repatriation, a hospital employee told AFP.

Headache, no appetite

Lara says he first started showing symptoms on March 5th.   

“I started to feel unwell, I wasn't very hungry and my head was aching, and two days later my temperature went up quite a bit.”    

A few days later, he went to a health centre in Seville where his glamping Hub startup is based.

He hadn't been in China, nor Italy and didn't know if he had been in contact with anyone infected by the virus.

“They told me that under the health ministry's guidelines, they wouldn't test me,” saying it was probably something else, he said.   

The next week, he went into work twice, but at home “took all the necessary precautions” to ensure he wouldn't pass on whatever he had to his wife and tiny daughter: using a mask, eating separately and sleeping on his own.

“I was panicking that my daughter would get infected,” he admits.    

“When I started showing symptoms, I said I wouldn't hold her or go near her, or change her nappies.”

'But will I die?'  

When the fever and the chills showed no signs of disappearing, he went to hospital in his native town of Ronda, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southeast of Seville, on March 13th.

This time he was tested, with the results showing “a rare, severe case of pneumonia in both lungs and very low immunity”.   

He tested positive with the hospital immediately transferring him to the intensive care unit.

“That was the worst moment of my life because there was so much uncertainty,” he said.   

“I asked them 'am I going to die? Will I get better?'. And they said 'we just don't know, this is so new'. It was a shock.”    

In the intensive care unit, they gave him Lopinavir + Ritonavir, two antivirals used to treat HIV patients, that strip back the virus's ability to reproduce and attack the immune system.

The treatment worked and 48 hours later, he was taken out of intensive care.

His breathing continued to improve, the fever went down and he was discharged from hospital on March 23rd.

Still gets breathless

Back home, he's been living “a normal life” while being extremely careful with hygiene after they warned him that the contagion could remain in urine and faeces for another 14 days.

Lara said some of his friends and acquaintances had mild symptoms, although none had tested positive for the virus nor been taken to hospital.    

And no-one in his immediate circle has shown any symptoms, not his wife nor his daughter, nor their parents, who all had to observe a period of quarantine.

So all his precautions before going into hospital “to ensure nobody caught the virus at home”, appeared to have worked.   

Although he feels well, he has been told to stay off work for between 30 and 60 days, and he can't do any sport, he said.    

“And if I talk too much I get a bit breathless because you don't cure pneumonia overnight.”

By AFP's Álvaro Villalobos

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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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