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Why Catalonia’s bars and restaurants are to remain closed for another ten days

Regional authorities have extended the closure of restaurants, bars and shopping centres across all of the Catalonia region for at least another ten days.

Why Catalonia’s bars and restaurants are to remain closed for another ten days
Photo: AFP

“We know that these are very difficult and complicated measures, that we are asking for very hard sacrifices from sectors of our economy and society but from the point view of health … we need these 10 days,” explained Josep Maria Argimon, Catalonia’s public health secretary, announcing the extension on Thursday.

He said that the measures could begin to be lifted from November 23rd with the reopening of open air table service on terrazas.

The region has also closed its borders and each weekend confines residents to their own municipality in a bid to stop people moving around and spreading the virus.

Authorities have taken the decision to prolong strict measures even though infection rates in the northeastern region are improving.

 “We’re on the right track, the trend is good but not good enough, as we are at the peak of healthcare pressure and we need to flatten that curve as well,” added Alba Vergés, the Catalan regional health minister.

Despite the improvement in infection rates all of the healthcare zones of the region bar one still fall in the high risk of outbreak category.


Map from https://dadescovid.cat/

But the data did seem to show that the infection rate across Catalonia was stabilizing.

The region’s average 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants dropped from 742.42 on November 6th to 589.08 on November 12th, a significant decrease showing that the strict measures imposed on Catalans is proving effective.

But still the figure is above the national average and puts the region above the 500 cases per 100,000 threshold that categorises a region as “extreme risk”.

The infection rate improvement is illustrated in this graph:


Data from Spain's Health Ministry.

However, it is the pressure on the hospitals that authorities are keeping a close eye on.

There are currently 585 Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, taking up 44 percent of all ICU beds, a figure that according to Vergés is far above the number that can be handled by the Catalan healthcare system without impacting the quality of care for non-coronavirus patients.

 

The positivity rate – the figure that shows the proportion of coronavirus tests that come back positive – is also improving for Catalonia and now stands at 11.7 percent compared to the 12.67 percent a week ago.


Data from Spain's Health Ministry.

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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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