LATEST: Spain’s Covid-19 infection rate is now twice that of France and Italy

Spain's total coronavirus cases have crossed half a million, health ministry data showed Monday, as the government struggled to contain a surge of infections in one of Europe's hardest-hit countries.

LATEST: Spain's Covid-19 infection rate is now twice that of France and Italy
Spanish schools are reopening this week even as infections soar. Photo: AFP

The country of around 47 million people has recorded 525,549 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 29,516 related deaths, since its first case was diagnosed on January 31 on the remote island of La Gomera in the Canaries, the ministry said.

This gives Spain a per-capita infection rate about twice that of France and Italy, according to an AFP tally based on official data.   

Data above and map below from the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control (ECDC)

Spain was one of the worst-affected countries when the coronavirus struck Europe this year before one of the world's most stringent lockdowns helped reduce the outbreak's spread.

But infections have surged since the lockdown measures were fully removed at the end of June, the rise in infections often attributed to the return of nightlife and group activities.

During the past two weeks the country has recorded an average of 7,000 to 8,000 new cases per day, around a third of them in the Madrid region.    

In the last week alone, 1,829 people have been admitted into hospitals across Spain with coronavirus and 161 were treated in Intensive Care Units (ICU). A total of 237 have died in the last seven days, according to ministry data.

But the mortality rate is far below that recorded at the height of health crisis in late March and April, when nearly 900 deaths a day were reported, as the median age of new infections has dropped to around 40.

Asymptomatic cases also account for a far greater proportion of positive results, largely due to a rise in testing.

“The situation is much more favourable but we remain in an upwards phase,” the health ministry's emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon told journalists.    

The rise in infections comes as Spain is reopening its schools after they were closed in March, with some parents saying they are afraid to send their children to class.

The government has implemented several measures to curb the risk of infections in schools, including making the use of masks mandatory for anyone aged six and over and requiring frequent hand washing.

Last month it ordered nightclubs and cocktail bars to close and shortened restaurant operating hours to try to curb the increase in infections.    

The government expects the country's tourism-dependent economy will contract by 9.2 percent this year under the weight of the pandemic. 



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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.