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COVID-19

Spain raises bar of what constitutes high Covid risk

Spain’s Public Health Commission on Monday agreed to raise the threshold of what constitutes low and high risk for Covid infections, as the country’s health authorities try to agree on what restrictions should be implemented ahead of Christmas.

People walk along a street in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region
People walk along a street in downtown Burgos, in Castilla and Leon region. Spain’s fortnightly infection rate stands at 139 cases per 100,000 people. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

A week after the proposal to change Spain’s Covid traffic light system was rejected by some regions, Spain’s Public Health Commission has decided to approve the amendments nonetheless. 

According to Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias the new scale is adapted to the current situation of the pandemic as the previous traffic light system was introduced when only 4 percent of the eligible population was vaccinated compared to the current 90 percent, and “Covid hospitaliations, ICU admissions and deaths have been drastically reduced”.

Their new traffic light system will raise the threshold for the low risk category from 50 infections per 100,000 people in 14 days up to 100 cases per 100,000 people. 

For infection rates under 50 per 100,000, the infection risk would be classified as “under control”.

The updated system would also classify regions with 100 to 300 infections per 100,000 inhabitants as being at medium risk rather than the previous 50 to 100 threshold. 

This in turn would mean the high-risk bar would be twice as high as it has been up to now: 300 to 500 fortnightly Covid infections per 100,000 people. 

Anywhere with an infection rate above 500 will be classified as at extreme risk.

Crucially, when towns, cities or autonomous communities enter these risk categories is when local authorities have the justification to impose lighter or stricter Covid restrictions, if they get the backing of local courts. 

But Spain’s Health Ministry and Public Health Commission are yet to confirm what the suitable restrictions for each new risk category should be, if any at all. 

Will each of Spain’s 17 regions have a different set of Covid rules this Christmas? Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP
 

National and regional governments in Spain are not seeing eye to eye over how to move forward with Covid measures ahead of Christmas as new infections gather pace and it starts to have an impact on hospitalisations. 

The changes to Spain’s Covid risk traffic light system were rejected just a week ago by regional health officials who crossed them off as unnecessary and likely to give a false sense of security to the public. 

Many regions have called instead for the Covid health passport to be used in the hospitality sector to limit infections and hospitalisations among Spain’s 4 million unvaccinated, and they want the national government to give them the powers to not have to ask the high courts for permission. 

But the health ministry headed by Carolina Darias has ruled out the possibility of the nationwide implementation of the Covid health pass.

“The Supreme Court has laid the foundations and that’s the path to follow,” Darias said about Covid health passes breaching fundamental rights.

Instead the national government has proposed that bars and restaurants close at 11pm and nightclubs at 1am in areas where Covid cases are spiking over Christmas.

The national government’s main focus is “vaccination and facemasks” rather than renewed restrictions according to government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez, acknowledging that there’s “worry” among the regions for the lack of a common framework.

It appears that Spain is heading towards a Christmas period where the rules could end up being different in all 17 of its regions.  

As of November 24th, Spain’s fortnightly infection rate stands at 139 cases per 100,000 people, COVID hospitalisations represents 2 percent of total hospitalisations, and ICU 5 percent.

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FACE MASKS

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended Spaniards put their masks back on in indoor public settings, calling for "caution" as the seventh coronavirus wave sees cases and hospitalisations rise across the country.

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Friday recommended people wear face masks again in indoor public settings as Covid cases and hospitalisations in late June and early July returned to levels not seen since February 2022.

Darias called for “caution” and “responsible mask usage” at a time of increased travel in Spain and with many doctors and nurses booking off time for their summer holidays.

Similar sentiments about the return of face masks indoors have already been shared by the health authorities in some of Spain’s other regions, including Catalonia and Madrid. 

Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon recommended that those recovering from Covid should continue to wear a mask due to the increase in Covid patients admitted to the ICU in the region, which has increased from 26 to 46 in the space of three weeks.  

Madrid Vice President Enrique Ossorio also suggested that masks should be reintroduced in certain situations, due to the rise of cases seen in the region. Masks should be worn by “vulnerable people, those who are immunosuppressed and those who are pregnant,” he argued.

Ossorio also recommended that the use of face masks be extended to enclosed public spaces and large events.

After two years of compulsory usage in indoor public settings, Spanish authorities lifted the indoor face mask rule on April 20th, having already removed the requirement for outdoors on February 10th

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Spain’s Health Minister also urged that those aged 80 and over should receive a fourth Covid vaccine dose, but has not specified when this will happen, even though this was already been approved in early June.   

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

“The Health Ministry is going to continue working hand in hand with the advice of experts who’ve introduced an exemplary vaccination strategy,” Darias explained.

On Friday July 1st, 10,249 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain, a figure not seen since February 17th 2022. As for ICU admissions, there were 449 Covid patients in total.

Madrid currently has a fortnightly infection rate of 1,500 cases per 100,00 inhabitants for people aged 60 and over, as Spain stopped counting each and every Covid-19 cases last March and focused only on serious infections and those affecting the elderly. 

That’s why experts are referring to this seventh coronavirus wave as the “silent” one, with no way of truly knowing how many people are getting infected or reinfected in Spain. 

Darias said that the Covid situation is being monitored carefully and that rise in cases is mainly down to the new omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, which are more transmissible but are milder than previous variants.

The Minister added that the Spanish government has provided its regions with medicines that are “very important” in the treatment of Covid, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, of which 344,000 sets of pills have been purchased, which help prevent an infected person from developing a serious illness, as well as Evusheld to protect people who do not generate their own antibodies. 

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