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COVID-19 STATS

Covid-19 cases in Spain continue to rise after the long weekend

New data shows that the sixth wave in Spain isn’t slowing down and infections continue to rise after the recent holiday of the Puente de la Constitución.

Rapid antigen test for Covid-19
Covid-19 case numbers rise in Spain. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

As families gathered and people across Spain travelled for the national holidays on December 6th and 8th, the number of Covid-19 cases across the country continued to rise. Spain is now approaching the high-risk category with 290 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The worst regions affected are Navarra with a 14-day incidence rate of 888 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the Basque Country with 723 cases per 100,00 inhabitants and Aragón with 554 cases per 100,000, according to new data released on Wednesday.

The number of Covid-19 cases has increased the most in Asturias – by 343 percent and in Galicia by 206 percent.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez asked Spaniards on Wednesday to trust science, to be prudent, to make sure they’re vaccinated and to wear masks when necessary.

READ ALSO – EXPLAINED: How Spain will vaccinate five to 11 year-olds against Covid

Countries across Europe have been reintroducing restrictions due to a rise in cases across the continent, as well as the emergence of the new Omicron variant. For example, on Wednesday the UK government announced a return to working from home, the use of Covid passes and the reintroduction of masks.

However, Spain still has significantly fewer Covid-19 cases than its neighbours. An average of 11,797 cases per day were reported in Spain in the past week, while France recorded more than 44,000 per day and the UK reported 47,000.

Scientists from the World Health Organization and the United States government said this week that the Omicron variant appeared to be no worse than other coronavirus strains but said more research was still necessary.

In preliminary results published on Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine “is still effective in preventing Covid-19, also against Omicron, if it has been administered three times”. But they warned that “the Omicron variant is probably not sufficiently neutralised after two doses”.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

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

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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