Spain raises bar of what constitutes high Covid risk

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
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.

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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