Spain records more than a million Covid infections in three weeks

Passers-by, wearing a face mask as a protection against Covid-19, walk past Christmas lights in the streets of Madrid, on December 22, 2021.
People cross Madrid's Gran Vía on December 22nd as Spain recorded one of its highest number of daily Covid infections on record. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Christmas in Spain isn’t over and the Health Ministry is yet to report new Covid cases over the New year weekend, but so far the festive period has left more than one million infections as the country struggles to contain the Omicron variant.

On December 8th, Spain’s regional health departments had reported a total of 5.28 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country since the pandemic began. 

By December 29th, this total figure had risen by more than a million infections to a total of 6.29 million cases.

The figure snowballed in particular from December 22nd to 29th – 519,000 new infections – as Spain recorded on several occasions more than 100,000 cases in just a day. That means that roughly one in every 12 infections since the pandemic began almost two years ago were notified during that one week.

What’s more, Spain’s Health Ministry is yet to disclose how many new infections there have been over the New Year’s weekend as there’s no reporting over weekends and public holidays.

Although last-minute restrictions and cancellations of celebrations were introduced to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron strain, it’s highly likely the upward trend will continue when the Health Ministry reports the latest figures from the long weekend on Monday afternoon. 

More testing has meant more confirmed infections, and over the past seven days the results of 2.4 million Covid tests have been notified. 

Crucially, the Christmas period isn’t over yet as on January 6th Spain celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men or Three Kings for Epiphany, which is just as important or arguably more so than Christmas Eve and Day for Spaniards

It represents another round of gift-giving and family gatherings, so social interactions in the lead up and during this period will continue unabated for the following three days. 

Health experts are warning that this sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain will not reach its peak until the second week of January at the earliest, so Spain could well continue seeing its fortnightly infection rate rise until then. 

The incidence of the virus is currently higher than it’s ever been at 1,777 cases per 100,000 people, and four days have passed since the last update.

If it reached the 2,000-mark, it would mean one in fifty people in Spain are currently infected with Covid-19. 

With 90 percent of over-12s in the country fully vaccinated against Covid-19, hospitalisations, deaths and ICU cases continue to be lower than during previous waves.

But even these stats are now increasing at a faster rate as Spain’s 13,000 health centres struggle to deal with the avalanche of calls and hospital admissions, even if the virus is proving less deadly. 

In Catalonia, health authorities have decided positive cases can notify pharmacies of their infections rather than their health centres to try to lessen the workload.

If there is a positive to draw, the possibility of achieving herd immunity in Spain is looking increasingly likely according to virologists. 

With such a large proportion of the population now vaccinated or recovered (or both) as well as 13 million people with a Covid-19 booster shot, one would be forgiven for thinking such immunity was within reach, especially as Omicron has been described as the fastest spreading virus in history. 

“It is difficult to guarantee this,” Daniel Enrique Pleguezuelo, immunologist at Madrid’s 12 de Octubre hospital, told Spanish medical publication Redacción Médica.

“But with such a high rate of infection and fortunately mild symptoms in most cases, thanks to vaccination and the changes that this variant brings, we will most likely achieve sufficient group immunity to allow us to think of putting this difficult period behind us.”

“A fully vaccinated person that gets infected generates a powerful immune response, since the infection acts as a natural booster more powerful than any dose of vaccine without causing serious disease,” immunologist José Gómez Rial told the medical daily.

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