On Friday December 17th, Catalonia’s Health Department announced it would change its health protocol so that all close contacts of positive patients – of any COVID-19 strain – will have to quarantine from Monday December 20th, even if they have been double vaccinated.
This measure had previously only applied for cases of the Omicron variant, but regional health boss Josep Maria Argimon fears the new variant will make up the majority of cases in a week or ten days, and dominate cases in the new year.
Twenty percent of samples anaylsed in Catalonia are already suspected of being the omicron variant, a figure that rises to 25 percent in the Barcelona area.
The Catalan Generalitat government’s scientific advisory committee is meeting on Friday afternoon to consider the rise in numbers, and possibly implement measures to halt the rise in cases.
In early December, Spain’s Health Ministry said that people in close contact with those infected with the Omicron, Beta and Gamma variants must quarantine for ten days, although regional health authorities have the power to decide whether to fully apply these rules.
Catalonia’s approach to require quarantine from close contacts of all variants solves the issue of not knowing which strain a person is infected with, as the three PCR tests conducted to ascertain the variant are not always conclusive and usually require complex sequencing.
“There is a new variant, a new element to take into account and all situations must be evaluated,” Argimon explained this week, hinting at new measures.
The new rules on contact isolation are hoped to, in part, slow the spread of the new virus.
But Catalonia is not alone: the Madrid region is also facing a surge in omicron cases. According to healthcare sources, the omicron variant accounts for over 30 percent of cases diagnosed in some hospitals.
The regional health minister, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, estimated today that as many as 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases are of the omicron strain.
On Friday, an Andalusian court approved measures requiring vaccination or negative test certificates for entry into bars, restaurants and other events.
Cases have been spiralling across Spain in recent weeks, though it is important to note that both hospitalisations and deaths, thanks to Spain’s effective vaccination programme, are nowhere close to the levels seen in the past.
As of this week, just 5 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds are taken up by COVID-19 patients and 14 percent of all intensive care units.
When infections spiked last January, Covid-19 patients took up 14 percent of all Spain’s hospital beds and 27 percent of intensive care units.
With cases increasing across Spain, it is expected other regions could follow Catalonia with new rules. Spain’s regions – each of which runs its own own healthcare systems, controls coronavirus restrictions and coordinates vaccination programs – will have decisions to make, but many are not offering detailed data yet, until the necessary genetic sequencing of samples can be completed, and it is believed that
Catalonia may be the first to reintroduce ore stringent restrictions to curb the spread of omicron, right before Christmas.