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COVID-19

LATEST: Spain tops three million coronavirus cases

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain, one of Europe's hardest-hit nations, has topped three million since the start of the pandemic, the health ministry said Tuesday.

LATEST: Spain tops three million coronavirus cases
A pharmacist carries out an antigen test in Madrid. Photo: AFP

Spain recorded another 16,402 cases in the last 24 hours, taking its overall figure to 3,005,487. Seroprevalence studies, which test for antibodies using a blood serum sample, suggest the real figure is far higher.

Over the same 24-hour period, Spain also saw another 766 deaths, bringing the overall toll to 63,061 in the nation of some 47 million people.   

Spain became the first European country to record a million coronavirus infections on October 21, and reached the two million mark on January 7.   

Infections then increased by another million in just over a month.   

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

Spain saw a surge in infections at the start of the year, with health officials blaming an easing of restrictions over the Christmas holidays.   

Since then, the incident rate has started to come down as regional governments, which are in charge of health care, have cracked down.    

So far, Spain has not seen a major surge in new variants but has imposed a ban on arrivals by air from Britain, Brazil and South Africa which on Tuesday was renewed until March 2nd.

The fear is these variants could spread more rapidly or contain mutations allowing the virus to bypass vaccines.

On Friday, Spain confirmed its first case of the Brazilian variant. It has so far confirmed several cases of the South African variant and around 480 cases of the variant discovered in Britain in November.

Officials believe the British variant could become the dominant strain in Spain by March.

Spain has so far vaccinated just over two million people since it began its immunisation campaign at the end of December.  

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government has vowed to have covered 70 percent of Spain's population by the summer's end, a goal reaffirmed by the government despite shortages and delays in vaccine supplies.

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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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