Spain wants to stop counting Covid-19 infections to assess severity of pandemic 

Spain’s Health Ministry announced on Tuesday it intends to stop using the infection rate and other case number indicators to determine if the country’s epidemiological situation is improving or worsening. 

Spain wants to stop counting Covid-19 infections to assess severity of pandemic 
Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

The Spanish government plans to stop using the number of positive cases among 100,000 people over the past 7 or 14 days as a means of assessing how the pandemic is evolving in the country.

Health Minister Carolina Darias told journalists on Tuesday her department has determined that this data is not as conclusive to evaluate the current stage of the pandemic. 

“As we gain more tools and knowledge, we see that an increase in cases does not necessarily have a proportional impact on the pandemic,” Darias argued.

The infection rate – known in Spanish as la incidencia acumulada – has been the main way Spanish authorities have informed the public of where the virus was spreading fastest across its 17 regions and 50 provinces. 

It’s been the basis of the Health Ministry’s four risk categories – low (25- 50 cases per 100,00 people) medium (50-150 cases per 100,000 people), high (150 to 250 cases per 100,000) and extreme (more than 250 cases per 100,000 people). 

This in turn has been one of the main criteria used by the regions to determine whether to roll out tighter or lighter Covid-19 restrictions.

Spanish health authorities also want to stop referring to the positivity rate of PCR tests carried out around the country as a means of judging the prevalence of the virus. 

Instead, Spain will look at the rate of vaccination, the presence of new variants, the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations and ICU admissions as well as Covid deaths as a means of assessing the impact of the virus.

“They will be able to give us a much more accurate picture of the epidemiological reality,” Spain’s Health Minister concluded. 

Sanidad (Spain’s Health Ministry) won’t stop reporting the infection rate completely, but as Darias indicated it will be evaluated “separately, by age group” rather than just as a general rate among every 100,000 people.

As Spain turns over a new page in the way it reports its epidemiological situation, the country has incidentally just left the extreme risk category with fewer than 250 cases per 100,000 people. 

And if these figures don’t offer a clear picture of where the fifth wave is going as health authorities suggest, Spain has just reached its first immunity target of 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated. 

There have however been 194 Covid deaths over the past 24 hours, Covid hospitalisations number 6,806 and the percentage of ICU bed occupancy is 17.39 percent.

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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.