Around 10.4 million people in Spain have had Covid since the pandemic began, and although the incidence of the Omicron variant has been dropping rapidly in recent days, the country’s infection rate still stands at around 1,893 cases per 100,000 people on Wednesday February 9th.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant over the past two months has meant millions of people have had to take time off work, putting huge pressure on the country’s economy.
On December 29th, it was decided that quarantines in Spain would be reduced from ten days down to seven in part to address this problem, with the Omicron variant’s generally milder symptoms as well as the country’s high vaccination rate and booster shot administration justifying the decision.
Forty days later, Spain’s health authorities are again considering whether to reduce the period of isolation even further.
On Tuesday February 8th, the country’s Public Health Commission met to decide whether quarantine for Covid sufferers should be five days as it is in the US, and as low as three days for those who have tested positive but have no symptoms.
Business associations as well as the regional governments of Madrid, Galicia, Castilla-La Mancha and the Valencia region are among those that have been pushing hardest for this to happen.
The Public Health Commission decided to delay the decision until their next weekly meeting, suggesting that the government’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón and his health emergencies team must first present new scientific reports relating to surveillance of the virus under these proposed new quarantine guidelines.
Epidemiologist Quique Bassat of Barcelona’s Global Health Institute has argued that there is scientific proof that “many people are still capable of infecting others from five to six days after testing positive”.
“It’s a risk to reduce the isolation period of positive cases if we are letting potentially infectious people move around freely outdoors,” Bassat told Spanish online daily Nius Diario.
If other rules such as mask wearing or capacity limits for large events are being eased, the epidemiologist believes the quarantine period should not change.
“Fewer than seven days is an unnecessary risk, at least at this time when there is still high transmission and many daily cases”.
“It’s clearly not an epidemiological measure, but rather an economic and work one,” argued for his part César Carballo, vice president of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine.
“If you want to reduce the quarantine period because the economy can’t take it any longer, that’s something else, but then you should be sure to give people clear rules: ‘you’re going to leave your home while being positive for Covid-19 , you’re forced to wear an FPP2 mask, especially for companies whose workers have to commute.”
Spanish authorities are looking to lead an international push for Covid-19 to be monitored in a similar way to seasonal flu, which suggests that mild Covid infections, however many there may be, will not be a determining factor when rolling out restrictions and a new self-isolation strategy.
Spain has taken a cautious approach throughout the pandemic however, so if quarantine periods were to reduced, it may be first by just a day to six days of isolation, rather than five or lower still.