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SUE WILSON

OPINION: Spain’s recent rise in infections is of concern to us all including the retired

When I dreamt of a Spanish retirement over many a cold, grey, British winter, the last few months of living with Covid did not feature in my vision, writes Sue Wilson.

OPINION: Spain's recent rise in infections is of concern to us all including the retired
Photo: AFP

Governments and medical professionals might have game-planned potential pandemic scenarios, but the general public were living in ignorant bliss. The shock, when it came in March, was scary and dramatic, and on an unprecedented scale.

When the worst appeared over, and safety measures were relaxed, our relief was tinged with caution, and lots of unanswered questions. Was it safe to go out? Would there be a second wave? Would life ever return to normal?

Covid aside, retirement in Spain has been everything I could have hoped for, and more. Although the rise in new Spanish cases has been alarming, we’ve been relatively virus free in my usually quiet corner of the Costa Azahar.

Being retired during lockdown has provided some relief. I’ve avoided concerns like earning a living, or worrying about job security, and the restrictions have affected me less than the younger, more social animals.

Recent changes to safety measures, such as the closure of nightclubs, or the “early” closure of restaurants and bars at 1 am have not affected my life one iota.

Like everyone else, I have missed my family and friends, but not eating out is not a hardship, and the shopping restrictions have ensured my bank balance, at least, is healthier.

Regardless of age or personal circumstances, the recent rise in infection rates in Spain concerns us all.

The European Centre for Disease Protection and Control recently reported that, over a 14-day period, Spain had 152 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, making it the highest rate in Europe, ahead of Malta on 119. More worrying still, the figure for new cases in Madrid is over 300. According to Fernando Simón, Director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Centre for Health Alerts, the ministry did not expect to “see these rates of infection until the autumn”.

While new cases of coronavirus are mostly amongst the less-at-risk younger population, there has also been a recent rise in the number of hospitalisations, and an increase in the number of deaths.

Experts are unclear as to the reasons for the increases but have cited a variety of possible causes. These include a lack of contact tracing, de-escalating lockdown measures too soon, a lack of public compliance to safety measures and the impact of increased mobility and tourism.

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With the new cases come renewed concerns for the health and the wealth of the country. We hope the first wave will have taught governments everywhere some important lessons on what they did well and what they did badly. It seems unlikely, for now at least, that a national lockdown is on the cards for Spain, but local lockdowns could become a regular tool in the Covid armoury. There are already signs of additional measures being put in place in some regions.

Despite 26,000 new cases per day being reported on average across Europe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that the authorities are better prepared this time round. With the knowledge gained during the first wave, the WHO suggested that Europe can combat Covid without the necessity for further, full lockdowns.

Whatever the measures needed to combat this terrible disease we have little choice in the matter. Any future precautions will require further sacrifice and compromise. Some measures we will adhere to gladly, for the sake of our health, our families, and the wider community. Other measures will prove more difficult and will be obeyed with less good grace.

We don’t yet know how the virus will progress, how it might mutate, or whether previously infected people will be immune from further infection. No government will ever do everything right, not even at their second attempt. We can only hope they will learn valuable lessons to prevent as many cases and deaths as possible. Let’s hope that we, likewise, have learned how to behave responsibly and reduce the risk.

As a non-working, non-smoking, non-clubbing, home-cooking pensioner with a garden, I’ll do my best to deal with any sacrifices required and be grateful that compared to many, I have it relatively easy.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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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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