Spain records highest daily Covid-19 cases since pandemic began

Driven by the new Omicron variant, Spain’s sixth wave has sent case numbers rocketing. On Tuesday, the country recorded just under 50,000 new infections, the highest number in a 24-hour period since the Covid pandemic began in March 2020.

People shop for Christmas in the centre of Madrid.
People shop for Christmas in the centre of Madrid. Spain's capital recorded more than 10,000 new Covid infections on Tuesday. Photo: Oscar del Pozo/AFP

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.

READ MORE: What Covid restrictions could Spain implement at Christmas?

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.

READ ALSO: Covid questions – Do I have to quarantine in Spain?

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

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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.