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Are Spain’s restrictions winning the battle to flatten Covid-19 second wave?

The latest data shows a positive trend but Spain is still a long way from having the pandemic under control.

Are Spain's restrictions winning the battle to flatten Covid-19 second wave?
Photo: AFP

The latest data from Spain’s Ministry of Health appears to show that the infection rate is stabilising with most regions reporting a fall in the 14-day cumulative incidence of new cases per 100,000 people.

Spain’s tally of coronavirus cases rose by 38,273 on Monday from Friday’s level, health ministry data reported, representing a significant drop in the number of new cases from a weekend peak of more than 55,000 on November 2nd.

 

But the overall increase brings Spain’s total of infections since the start of the pandemic to 1,496,864, the second highest in Europe after France.


Chart above shows the number of daily cases recorded across Spain since lockdown ended. (Spain's Health Ministry)

Although moving in the right direction – in just a week the rate has fallen from 529.43 new infections per 100,000 – the figure is still eight times the magic number of  60 which is when the EU considers a pandemic under control.

Fernando Simón, Spain’s health emergency chief who leads the Health Ministry press conferences insisted that there was still need for caution.

“We continue to see a slightly declining trend in the number of infections… but it’s still at 470 cases per 100,000. That’s a lot of cases, a lot,”  he said on Monday evening.

Simón said that in 17 out of Spain’s 19 autonomous regions and cities, new infections were either stabilising or declining.

All regions bar Asturias and Cantabria showed a slowdown in the number of new infections.

 

The data also reported 484 fatalities from Covid-19 over the weekend, bringing Spain’s official death toll to 41,253, although the true number is thought to be much higher.

However, the pressure on hospitals has continued to rise, with nearly a third of intensive care beds now occupied by COVID-19 patients, a trend Simon expected to persist for at least a few more days.

Madrid, which lifted restrictions on 10 healthcare zones on Monday, is the only region where the incidence has been consistently decreasing over the last four weeks.

On October 19th, the cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants was 439.33, whereas on Monday the figure had dropped to 310.52.

Each of Spain's regions have taken their own approach within the guidelines that fall under the State of Alarm declared on October 25th. Some have imposed perimeter restrictions around their region as well confining residents to their own municpalities. Other regions such as Catalonia, Andalusia and Castilla y Leon took the decision to close all bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile, a curfew is in place across the whole of Spain except the Canary Islands and social groups are limited to a maximum of six people. 

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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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