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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Outbreak or seventh wave? Health experts divided as Covid cases rise in Spain

Spain’s decision to stop counting all infections has some epidemiologists arguing health authorities are turning a blind eye to rising cases. But is the country truly heading towards a seventh wave?

Outbreak or seventh wave? Health experts divided as Covid cases rise in Spain

Three weeks since the Easter holidays came to a close and the indoor face mask rule was lifted in Spain, the Covid infection rate among over-59s has increased considerably, for most health experts predictably. 

It’s double what it was on April 1st – going from 459 cases per 100,000 up to 813 per 100,000 – and although Covid hospitalisations have risen by 78 percent in a month, pressure on hospitals remains stable. 

Not that this can be considered a complete picture of the epidemiological situation in Spain as the health ministry decided last March it would stop requesting data from the regions for infections among under-60s. 

This is part of the Spanish government’s plan of managing Covid-19 in a similar way to other endemic diseases such as seasonal influenza. 

The focus in recent weeks has been lifting Covid restrictions, not counting and reporting all Covid infections as frequently and rigorously and keeping a close eye only on the elderly and vulnerable. In a nutshell, returning to life pre-coronavirus.

But for some epidemiologists, the 55,578 new infections and 234 Covid deaths in the past week are indicative of the fact that the virus is still raging strong and that the end of Covid rules may have come too soon.

“We’re not facing a silent wave of the pandemic.  We’re walking blindfolded into a new wave, we don’t want to see it and we don’t want to name it,” Daniel López-Acuña, former director of emergencies at the World Health Organisation, told public broadcaster RTVE.

“There is a considerable rise in the infection rate, and  a rise in the infection rate sustained over time is a new wave, whether you want to call it that or not , López-Acuña added, arguing that if the incidence in under-60s were also analysed, “we would see the same infection rate or greater”.

Epidemiologist Quique Bassat argues that although there is talk among health experts of a seventh wave, “what we don’t know is how long it will last and if this is the beginning of what will end up being a seventh wave, or if it’s really just a new outbreak.” 

For Bassat, who is regularly interviewed on La Sexta and Antena 3 news, a rise in cases after the Easter holidays and the removal of face masks indoors is “what was expected”, but that “doesn’t mean that the population should be scared” and it “isn’t necessary to change the current strategy” of the health ministry.

“Pressure on healthcare is what has to determine if we should take a step back in the de-escalation of Covid-19 measures,” Bassat concludes.

It’s clear that the Spanish government’s approach to this stage of the pandemic is subject to a variety of opinions among the scientific community.

Some health experts, such as immunologist Matilde Cañelles of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), consider it “irresponsible” to stop quarantine for positive cases and not count infections when there are still 30 people dying of Covid every day in Spain. 

Others take a more pragmatic approach and call for the fourth dose (second booster) of the Covid-19 booster vaccine to be offered to over-80s in the country as previously suggested, as the infection rate in this group is now over the 1,000 per 100,000 mark.

For epidemiologist Oriol Mitjà, Covid-19 adviser for the Catalan government, the coming weeks will shed more light on how big this coronavirus wave will be.

“Omicron is a variant with vaccine escape and with the potential to infect up to 60-70 percent of the population. 30 percent were infected at Christmas, 30 percent will avoid it and 30 percent can be infected now,” Mitjà tweeted.