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COVID-19 RULES

Spain reduces Covid quarantine from ten to seven days

Spain will shorten the mandatory isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 from ten to seven days, the country's health ministry said on Wednesday.

Spain reduces Covid quarantine from 10 to 7 days
Spain reduces Covid quarantine from 10 to 7 days

At least 500,000 people who are currently infected with Covid-19 in Spain will be able to end their quarantine earlier than expected.

Spain’s Public Health Commission, which encompasses the Health Ministry and the country’s regional health departments, “unanimously” agreed to adopt the shorter quarantine measure from Thursday at a meeting on Wednesday, Health Minister Carolina Darias said in a statement.

The new seven-day quarantine period applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who test positive for Covid-19 in Spain.

Vaccinated close contacts will still be able to avoid going into isolation before getting tested, whereas unvaccinated close contacts will have to abide by the seven-day quarantine period.

The move follows a similar decision in the United States as a surge of infections sparked fears that staff shortages will disrupt the economy.

A number of other European countries are also currently considering reducing the period of self-isolation for either positive cases or close contacts, or both.

Some Spanish regions had initially suggested the ten-day quarantine should be reduced to five days as in the case of the US or Greece, but finally a week-long period of isolation was agreed.

It had also been recommended that the new rule apply only to asymptomatic cases but this does not appear to have been specified in the initial announcement. In a press conference held on Wednesday evening, Health Minister Carolina Darias clarified that people who continue having symptoms after a week should remain in isolation.

Spain’s Vaccination Committee was against the reduction of the quarantine period and other health experts have argued that it may mean some people can return to work earlier, but others will have to call in sick with Covid-19 as infections will rise as a result. 

Earlier on Wednesday Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the country needed to strike “a balance” between public health, mental health and economic growth.

Spain on Tuesday confirmed a record 99,671 new infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the level from a week earlier.

US health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended time for which people should isolate after a positive test from 10 to five days, so long as they do not have symptoms and continue to wear a mask.

The move was praised by airlines and the hospitality industry, but public health experts criticised the decision to omit a requirement for a negative Covid test.

Spain has been hard hit by the pandemic, recording over 89,000 deaths and just over 6 million infections since it started.

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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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