Spain facing ‘third wave’ as coronavirus cases hit 2 million

Spain's total number of coronavirus infections surged past two million, as cases jumped following the Christmas holidays, government figures showed on Thursday.

Spain facing 'third wave' as coronavirus cases hit 2 million
Poeple queue to get tested at a clinic in Madrid. Photo: AFP

The milestone came as the health ministry announced another 42,360 new cases over the past 48 hours, taking the overall figure to 2,024,904.   

But seroprevalence studies, that test people using a blood serum sample, suggest the figure is far higher.

“The total number of confirmed cases… already exceeds two million today,” said Maria Jose Serra, deputy head of the health ministry's emergencies unit.    

“Clearly, we are seeing a new increase of cases, they had decreased and now they are increasing again in what we could call the third wave,” she said.   

Over the same 48-hour period, Spain also saw another 245 deaths, raising the overall toll to 51,675. And the incidence rate also shot up, rising from 296 cases per 100,000 people to 321, the figures showed.

On October 21st, Spain became the first European country to record a million coronavirus infections, with Prime  Minister Pedro Sanchez admitting just days later that the real number was three times higher.

And in mid-December, a new seroprevalence study suggested around 4.7 million people had been infected by the virus — or around 10 percent of Spain's population.

Although the numbers have shot up, prompting most of Spain's 17 regions to impose new curbs on public life, the government has remained adamant it won't impose a new lockdown.

Jose Serra also said Spain had identified “around 60 confirmed cases” of the highly-contagious coronavirus variant which is sweeping Britain, but said it was not a key driver in the recent surge.

'No plans for new lockdown'

With infection spreading rapidly across Europe, many countries have been forced into a second or even a third lockdown, but Spain has so far insisted the restrictions put in place under its state of emergency are sufficient.

“It's not in our sights, nor is it a measure we are contemplating,” said Illa earlier on Thursday.

Memories of the harsh months-long lockdown imposed last March remain fresh in Spain where no one was allowed out for walks or exercise for six weeks until the government began slowly easing the rules, first for children.

Since the lockdown ended in June, the regions have taken responsibility for managing the pandemic, with the state of emergency granting them the legal rights to enforce a curfew and other restrictions.

But it does not give them the power to impose a regional lockdown — which can only be done by the central government.

Castille and Leon, one of the worst-hit regions, has asked the government to impose a brief lockdown in the area but that request was turned down.   

Neighbouring Extramadura, a landlocked region flanking Portugal which has the highest incidence in the country, has shuttered bars, restaurants and all non-essential shops for several weeks.

And the northeastern region of Catalonia on Thursday introduced new rules meaning residents cannot leave their town or city without a valid reason.   

Shopping centres and gyms have been closed there, bars and restaurants can serve only breakfast or lunch, and at the weekend, only essential shops can open.


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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.