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COVID-19

Covid infection rates hit ‘extreme’ risk level in half of Spain 

The incidence of the virus in Spain has risen by around 100 points in a month, with six regions with a total population of 27 million now categorised in the “extreme” risk level for having fortnightly infection rates above 250 cases per 100,000 people.

Covid infection rates hit 'extreme' risk level in half of Spain 
Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP

As feared the repercussions of the Easter holidays on new infections in Spain appear to be following a similar pattern to the third wave that followed the Christmas break. 

As of Tuesday April 20th, Spain has a fortnightly infection rate of 230 cases per 100,000 people. 

On March 23rd, the figure stood at 128 cases per 100,000, more than 100 points lower, but the rate has snowballed particularly in the past two weeks.

From Friday April 16th to Monday April 19th,  Spain’s infection rate increased by 17 points.

There are currently six regions that have surpassed the “extreme” infection risk level of 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants: Navarra (428.8), Madrid (406.7), the Basque Country (399.7), Aragon (271.6), Andalusia (263.4) and Catalonia (254.3), as well as the autonomous cities of Ceuta (405.1) and Melilla (516.8).

Put together, the six regions have a joint population of 27 million, over half Spain’s 47 million.  

Five other autonomous communities fall in the Spanish Health Ministry’ “high” risk category, with more than 150 infections per 100,000 people: La Rioja (234.1), Castilla y León (210.7), Cantabria (208.1), Castilla-La Mancha (204, 7) and Asturias (169.8).

Two other Spanish regions currently have “moderate” infection risk levels with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people: the Canary Islands (140.5) and Extremadura (135.9). 

And four of Spain’s autonomous communities have managed to keep the virus under control after the Easter break,  with a “low” fortnightly infection rate of under 100 cases per 100,000: Galicia (90.1), Murcia (68.2), the Balearic Islands (60.6), and the Valencian Community (39.3).

Most impressive of all is the Valencia region’s case, which has seen its infection rate increase by only 8 points in the last month, resisting the fourth wave of the coronavirus and still recording one of the lowest incidence rates of all of Europe.

READ ALSO:

The urgency of getting as many of Spain’s inhabitants vaccinated promptly seems more pressing than ever as the country reported 21,071 new cases just over the weekend and 121 deaths since Friday. 

Hospital occupancy has risen by 8.3 percent nationwide and pressure in ICUs has gone from 18.4 percent to 22.4 percent.

However, for Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón the figures are not as worrying as during Spain’s previous coronavirus waves, telling journalists at a press conference on Monday that “mobility and contacts at Easter have not had an excessive effect” on infections.

“The evolution is good although we cannot lower our guard,” Simón added, stating that the increase in cases in recent days has stabilised, although he warned that “we must wait to see the data over the next couple of days. “

“The fourth wave “does not seem to be as large as the second and third waves,” he concluded.

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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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