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COVID-19

Is Spain already experiencing a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus?

Spanish heath officials suggested on Friday that the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases could be the start of a much-feared "second wave".

Is Spain already experiencing a 'second wave' of coronavirus?
A healthcare worker uses a swab to collect a sample at a temporary testing centre for the novel coronavirus in the Spanish Basque city of Getaria on July 15, 2020.

Maria José Sierra, the deputy head of Spain's health emergencies said that while the curve had been flattened “community transmission was being seen in north-eastern areas.”

“It could already be a second wave, but that's not the most important thing,” Sierra told reporters. “The most important thing is that we keep following what's going on, see what measures are necessary and take them early.

Health ministry data showed 2,615 new cases across Spain on Thursday, compared with a daily average of just 132 in June, Reuters reported.

“Obviously the curve is going up but let's wait and see what kind of situation we're in,” she added.

In Catalonia, nearly 8,000 cases were diagnosed in the last 14 days – almost half of the 16,410 detected throughout the country.

Authorities in Catalonia have been forced to introduce new local lockdowns whilst four million residents in Barcelona have been urged to stay home.

Catalonia's public health secretary Josep Maria Argimon described the situation in Barcelona as being at a “critical moment.”

Health officials also reported there were 281 active outbreaks across the country. Many have been linked to nightclubs and bars prompting regional authorities to impose new restrictions.

In the town of Totana in Murcia, south eastern Spain, 30,000 people were barred from entering or leaving after 55 cases linked to a bar were detected there.

Authorities in Madrid have urged people to wear a mask even at home when they are with people they don't live with and they have announced plans to restrict nightlife by limiting the number of people allowed in bars.

On Friday the French Prime Minister Jean Castex advised its citizens not to visit Catalonia in order to help contain the spread of the virus.

On Monday Spanish health officials reported that the infection rate had tripled in just over two weeks, from 8,76 per 100,000 inhabitants on July 3rd to 27,39 per 100,000 in recent days.

Spain's Health Ministry reported on Wednesday 288 Covid-19 hospitalisations over the past seven days and 11 Covid-19 patients in the ICU.

Although infections are on the rise in Spain, health officials say the majority are asymptomatic and the death rate remains well below the peak, partly because new cases are more concentrated among younger people.

“The pressure on hospitals remains low,” Spanish deputy health emergency head Maria Sierra said on Monday, with the exception of the city of Lleida in Catalonia where one of the country's main outbreaks is located.  

 

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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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