If you have the feeling that more people in your circle in Spain have Covid than at any other stage of the pandemic, you may be right.
Record daily infections, a spiking infection rate that is reportedly slowing down but still growing and the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant are all ensuring that Covid-19 is now more prevalent than ever.
On January 14th, Spain officially hit 8 million infections out of a population of 47 million, meaning that roughly 1 in every 6 people in the country has officially been infected with Covid-19.
However, sources from Spain’s Health Ministry have been willing to admit that the real number of infections is considerably higher, estimating there have been at least 12 million cases, Catalan daily La Vanguardia reported on Sunday. These four million extra infections would mean that more than 25 percent of Spain’s total population has had Covid-19.
Before the Omicron variant, which has led to 2.6 million infections in the last month and a half in Spain, up to 70 percent of cases were successfully tracked and traced, ministerial sources say, a rate which is now far lower.
According to Rafael Ortí, head of the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine, the real number of positive cases is most likely “double or triple” what is shown in the daily roundups announced by Spain’s Health Ministry.
It’s well reported that during Spain’s first wave that started in March 2020, health authorities didn’t have the testing system in place to compile accurate infection data, but even since health professionals across the country were briefed and equipped with the tools to correctly report cases, underreporting has continued.
Only six Spanish regions notify the country’s epidemiological surveillance system the results of antigens tests performed at home: Catalonia, Navarra, Galicia, Aragon, the Canary Islands and La Rioja.
The other 11 autonomous governments only report cases confirmed by public health services or by pharmacies.
Antigen tests carried out at home now represent around 45 percent of the total number of tests carried out in Spain. In the week leading up to Christmas, seven million rapid self-tests were sold in the country.
If people who discover they have Covid-19 fail to inform health authorities about it, there is no telling how many positive cases could have gone unreported.
Track and trace teams estimate that Spain’s real infection rate under the Omicron variant could be twice as high as that reported, citing as reasons for this their own understaffed and overworked teams, the high number of asymptomatic cases and the prevalence of Covid self-tests.
“The tracking system is overwhelmed with so many infections and variants,” Preventive Medicine specialist Juan Antonio Sánz told Spanish daily Voz Populi.
“My impression is that, of the infections that are registered in the surveillance system, there are at least as many cases that are escaping tracking”.
According to the Spanish Institute of Health Carlos III, more than half of cases in Spain during this sixth coronavirus wave have been asymptomatic.
It may never be possible for Spanish epidemiologists to truly know just how many people in Spain have contracted the virus over the past 22 months.
But with authorities seemingly incapable of keeping a handle on the numbers, it’s no surprise that the Spanish government is set to stop looking at the infection rate as a means of evaluating the pandemic and replace it with the less rigorous system used for monitoring seasonal flu.