Spain to begin mass Covid-19 testing in Barcelona neighbourhoods

Mass Covid-19 testing will begin in Barcelona from Saturday, August 15th, to detect patients who have the virus but show no symptoms.

Spain to begin mass Covid-19 testing in Barcelona neighbourhoods
Covid testing in Santa Coloma. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Residents in the neighbourhoods of Torre Baró and Nou Barris will be the first to be tested, followed by residents in the Besós-Maresme and Sant Marti districts on August 17th, reports La Vanguardia.

Both districts have reported an infection rate higher than the average for Barcelona. Since July 1st, Torre Baró has had 1,122 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants and Besós-Maresme has had 837.

Barcelona City Council also plans to extend mass screening to other neighbourhoods.

Talking to La Vanguardia, the third deputy mayor of Barcelona Laia Bonet explained that the city is adjusting to health criteria, but also to “demographic and socioeconomic criteria, which may end up influencing the impact of these outbreaks”.

The government has activated a new strategy to fight the spread of Covid-19 infections in its population. They have said that it’s no longer just a matter of detecting asymptomatic cases, but to make sure that those people stay home for 14 days and quarantine to cut the chain of transmission.

The new strategy also calls upon social associations, neighbourhood leaders, cultural organisers and residents to help stop the spread of the virus and ensure that people comply with the quarantine.

Covid testing in Barcelona
Residents queue for PRC testing in Santa Coloma, Barcelona. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

The town of Santa Coloma, within the Barcelona Metropolitan area, for example, has encouraged its residents to go for voluntary PRC testing.

“We are very satisfied with the community intervention carried out in the neighbourhoods of Latino and Fondo, in Santa Coloma de Gramanet,” the Health Minister Alba Vergés told La Vanguardia.

In total, 1,500 PCR tests have been performed in Santa Coloma in the last two days, with 1.5 percent of asymptomatic positives.

Mass testing has already been carried out in the nearby Catalan towns of Vilafranca del Penedès, Terrassa, Sabadell, Ripollet and Granollers, where significant numbers of asymptomatic positive infections were detected.  

A recent study carried out by the Hospital del Mar Medial Research Institute and the University Institute of Investigations into Primary Care indicated that the areas of Barcelona with the lowest per capita income were the most affected by the first wave of coronavirus.

On August 12th, Catalonia registered 450 new cases confirmed through PCR testing, bringing the total to 88,260 infected. In total 574 people have been hospitalised and 119 of those patients are in the ICU.

There have been eight deaths from Covid-19 recorded in the last 24 hours.




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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.