The Omicron variant is sweeping across Europe at top speed, and although nations such as Italy and France have recorded daily infection figures higher than Spain’s, it’s the Iberian nation that has had the highest prevalence of the virus over the past two weeks.
Spain’s fortnightly infection rate of 2,433 cases per 100,000 people is higher than the United Kingdom’s (2,326), France’s (1,693), Switzerland’s (1,550) and Portugal’s (1,208).
That means that one in 41 people in Spain currently have Covid-19 or have had it over the past 14 days.
The 117,775 new infections confirmed on Tuesday pushed Spain’s infection rate above the UK’s.
Almost one in every three Covid tests carried out in Spain – 28.7 percent – are also currently giving positive results, with more than 100,000 confirmed new cases a day for the past week.
The infection rate has continued to be used as an indicator of the prevalence of the virus in Spain even though back in September Spain’s Health Ministry announced it intended to stop using it to determine if the country’s epidemiological situation was improving or worsening.
In late November, they instead raised the threshold of what constitutes low and high risk for Covid infections, which during this sixth wave of Spain’s pandemic hasn’t mattered as all regions and age groups are now in the extreme risk category.
So should Spain’s sky-high infection rate worry authorities and the general population if the general consensus is that the Omicron variant isn’t resulting in the same degree of hospitalisations and deaths as during previous coronavirus strains and waves?
It depends who you ask. Some health experts believe that the wave of infections, coupled with the high rate of vaccination in the country, mean that the country is nearing herd immunity.
“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.”
On the other hand, Spain’s hospitals are under increasing pressure and have now admitted more Covid-19 patients than during the previous two waves, causing delays for other hospital patients and surgery cancellations.
There are currently around 13,000 Covid hospitalisations of which 2,000 are ICU admissions.
The high prevalence of the virus is also resulting in staff shortages as people who test positive are forced to quarantine, now for seven days rather than 10 after the government amended the self-isolation period last week.
So it appears to be a double-edged sword, where we’re perhaps fast-forwarding through this latest stage of the pandemic and Spain is taking a big leap toward immunity, but the virus is also temporarily putting huge pressure on the healthcare system and the economy.
Health experts expect the peak of this sixth wave to be reached in mid-January and some haven’t ruled out that increased social interaction during Easter will bring a seventh wave, but will more people vaccinated and recovered by then mean this doesn’t happen once again?
“We cannot talk about group immunity yet, not in the conventional sense,” leading Spanish immunologist Margarita del Val told Business Insider about the fact that even though 90 percent of Spain’s over 12s are fully vaccinated, the inoculations available don’t prevent transmission.
“Herd immunity is when vaccinated people are like shields, they are not contagious and they do not infect others.”