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COVID-19 RULES

Spain mulls shortening isolation to five days or lower for people with Covid-19

Spanish health authorities are considering reducing the days people infected with Covid-19 should spend in isolation from seven days down to five days or as little as three days for the asymptomatic, and a change to the rule could be just around the corner. 

isolation quarantine spain five days
Spain's Public Health Commission has to decide whether quarantine for Covid sufferers should be five days as it is in the US. Photo: Engin Akyurt/Pixabay

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. 

READ ALSO: How to request Covid-19 sick leave from work in each of Spain’s regions

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.

READ MORE:How Spain wants to lead global shift in Covid-19 surveillance

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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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