Spain’s Ministry of Health on Tuesdayreported 49,823 new COVID-19 infections – the highest single day number since the pandemic began.
The incidence rate has surged to 695 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Tuesday’s figures, placing Spain in the “extreme” risk category, even after health authorities raised the bar over what constitutes high risk last month.
Spain’s infection rate has increased by 68 percent in a little over a week.
The Basque Country and Navarre have also set their own records for daily infections, with 2,711 and 921 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Tuesday.
Madrid had the highest number of new cases overall on Tuesday, with 11,054 infections in twenty-four hours; followed by Catalonia with 10,273 new cases; and Andalusia, with 5,797.
The fortnightly infection rate stands at the extreme or very high risk level in all regions except Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia, and experts believe the infection rate is accelerating in the 20-29 age bracket because of a slowness to get vaccinated and high-level of social interaction.
President Pedro Sánchez will meet with regional presidents this afternoon to discuss the possible implementation of new restrictions to slow the spike in cases, known in Spain as la sexta ola, or sixth wave, of the pandemic, but it is unclear if this will be before or after Christmas, and if the action will be national or regional.
The regions disagree on what the best course of action is, and there is no consensus on how to handle la sexta ola in the middle of the Christmas holidays. As of Wednesday , Navarre and the Basque Country have the highest incidence in Spain together with La Rioja and Aragón.
And as during previous waves, this is putting medical infrastructure under pressure: ICUs in the four regions are 20 percent occupied by Covid patients.
But in Madrid, regional leader Isabel Díaz Ayusohas voiced her concern about new restrictions, preferring to keep Madrid open with an emphasis on self-diagnosis tests, ventilation and masks, despite having stated previously that the new omicron variant is already “in homes, anywhere public or private place “and it is” much more contagious “.
Catalonia, on the other hand, has already implemented new restrictions and isn’t waiting around for national government. The Generalitat also wants to reintroduce a curfew, close nightlife venues, limit meetings to 10 people, and cap capacity in restaurants to 50% and to 70% in shops, sporting events and gyms.
Catalan president Pere Aragonès has defended these “painful, but essential” measures, and has stressed that they should be extended to the other autonomous communities. Last week the Generalitat announced that all close contacts of a positive case would have to be quarantined regardless of their vaccination status.
Yet, on a national level, the Public Health Commission agreed on Tuesday that fully vaccinated close contacts of cases would not be required to do a 10-day quarantine, and the Health Ministry has recommended upping the Covid-19 vaccine booster shot roll out because it dramatically increases the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new omicron variant.
More than 11 million people have been jabbed with booster shots across Spain, one of the nations’ with the highest vaccine uptake in Europe: 80 percent of Spaniards have been fully vaccinated so far, and it is hoped the booster rollout will be met with similar enthusiasm.
13.4 percent of Spain’s 3.3 million children have already had their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since the children’s vaccination campaign was announced last week.
Wednesday’s meeting of regional presidents is, according to sources at La Moncloa, in response to “the situation caused by Covid and strengthening co-governance and institutional cooperation.”
It is expected that, politically speaking, there is no real push for new restrictions, and it is believed that regions will maintain their control of curfews, vaccine passports, limits to socialising and travelling, as they have been throughout the pandemic.
While there is seemingly no threat of another national lockdown, for now, nor is it believed there will there be any travel restrictions during the Christmas period, at today’s meeting Sánchez will hope to find some kind of consensus among regional bosses on light measures to limit la sexta ola without impinging on people’s freedoms, ruining Christmas, or overstepping on autonomous community powers.
Article by Conor Faulkner