Coronavirus in Spain: 70 percent of new cases are among medical staff

More than 70 percent of new virus cases detected in Spain over the past 24 hours have been among medical staff, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

Coronavirus in Spain: 70 percent of new cases are among medical staff
Health workers in PPE suits wave out of a window at a hospital in Burgos. Photo: AFP

With the epidemic well in remission after peaking over a month ago, Spain has begun moves to ease out of the lockdown following weeks in which the rate of deaths and new infections has steadily declined.

These latest figures confirm a trend in recent weeks that showed medical staff accounting for most new infections.

Since the epidemic began, Spain has now counted more than 250,000 infections, including those people shown to have had the virus through antibody tests.   

Of that figure, 18 percent of cases — or 43,956 — have involved health staff, in what Fernando Simon, who heads the ministry's emergencies department, said was a “significant occurrence”.

In two large hospitals in Madrid and Catalonia, the regions worst-hit by the crisis, there had been “an 11 percent infection rate among staff”, he said.

But he said infections among healthcare workers had been “less serious” than cases in the general population, which he attributed to the fact they were generally much younger.

Among healthcare workers, the mortality rate was 0.1 percent compared with 7.8 percent in the general population.

Far fewer had to be hospitalised or treated in intensive care, he said — also attributing it to the age difference.

Complaints over protective equipment

Health workers have greater access to tests for the virus, which might be one reason they feature so prominently in the official figures.   

But they are also in the frontline of the struggle against the virus, treating those already infected.

At the height of the epidemic, when the country's hospitals were on the brink of collapse, medics complained of a lack of protective material such as masks and gloves.   

And last week, Spain's primary care doctors association (SEMERGEN) issued a statement expressing “concern about the lack of adequate means… to avoid infection by coronavirus”.

Although such shortages were initially acknowledged by the government, in recent weeks it has said the supply of such items had been restored.    

Tuesday's daily toll showed another 185 deaths over the past 24 hours in what was the third straight day the figure has been under 200 and a far cry from the 950 deaths registered on April 2 when the epidemic peaked.

Spain has been one of the world's worst-hit countries, losing 25,613 lives to COVID-19.

As the situation has eased, the country has begun to relax some of the restrictions put in place on March 14, although the government is seeking to extend the state of emergency until May 23rd.

The most recent easing measures have seen people allowed out for a walk or to do exercise and small business permitted to receive customers with a prior appointment.




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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.