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COVID-19

Is Spain on the brink of coronavirus second wave?

Spain is now top of the EU leader board for countries with the highest infection rate over the last fortnight per size of population.

Is Spain on the brink of coronavirus second wave?
A healthcare worker holds a sample at a temporary testing centre for the novel coronavirus in Madrid on August 17th. Photo: AFP

It’s not a good title to have.

On Tuesday, the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control (ECDC) placed Spain at the top of the list of EU/EEA countries as the latest figures revealed a surge in new cases across Spain.

Spain has now become the only country listed with more that 100 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, rising above that threshold for the first time since lockdown restrictions were eased at the start of the de-escalation phases in May.

According to the ECDC the 14-day accumulated incidence of coronavirus cases registered in Spain now stands at 132.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, exceeding the figure of the next highest rate of 98 recorded in both Luxembourg and Malta and is far above the figure of 20 for the UK, 41 for France, 60 for Belgium.

In the last week alone, Spain has registered 33,769 new cases of covid-19 with the largest share recorded in Madrid where 10,379 people tested positive over the last 7 days, according to health ministry figures.

Catalonia has also seen a spike, registering 5,166 cases in the last week, while Aragon has seen 3,126 and the Basque Country 3,071.


The chart above shows the evolution of infections across Spain with the peak reached in March and the latest surge shown in more detail below.

 

Fernando Simón, Spain's chief epidemiologist and the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts insisted that the numbers reflected the huge efforts that have gone into testing.

“We can have a certain confidence that we are detecting a lot, a lot of what there is,” he said at the press conference on Monday. “I’m prudent and I’ll go as far as to say that between 60 and 70 percent (is being detected), but it is possible that we are detecting even more,” he explained.

Random testing schemes have been put in place in neighbourhoods in Madrid and Catalonia which are detecting cases in those who are asymptomatic and who might previously have gone undetected.

But although the hospitals are far from the saturation point reached during the peak of the crisis, admissions have been rising over the last week.

The above chart shows the number of cases that have sought primary medical care (light blue) and been hospitalised (dark blue). Source: Ministry of Health

Data from the Health Ministry on Tuesday showed that 1,096 Covid-19 cases had been admitted into hospital over the last 7 days, 65 of them into intensive care and that a total of 63 deaths were attributed to the virus and registered with the Health Ministry.

Spain is the country with the most reported cases across the EU/EEA area with a total of 359,082 cases since the start of the coronavirus crisis and a total of 28,646 deaths because of it – although that number only includes those who died after testing positive.

This week Spain's regions have begun to introduce a raft of new measures in a bid to prevent a second wave ahead of the start of the school year at the beginning fof September. Regional education boards have yet to announce plans for the reopening if schools prompting uncertainty and fears of looming chaos.

 READ MORE: These are the new measures imposed by Spain to fight coronavirus second wave

 

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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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