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COVID-19 STATS

Spain’s Covid death toll passes 100,000

More than 100,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Spain, health ministry figures showed on Wednesday as the country emerged from a sixth wave of the pandemic.

Spain's Covid death toll passes 100,000
A healthcare worker tends to a Covid-19 patient, at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Bellvitge University Hospital in Barcelona. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Spain passed the grim milestone some two years after the pandemic took hold, with official figures showing 154 people had died since Tuesday, raising the overall death toll to 100,037.

Spain detected its first case of coronavirus on January 31, 2020 in a German tourist visiting the Canary Islands and since then it has diagnosed 11,054,888 infections, of which 18,803 in the past 24 hours.

When the pandemic first took hold, Spain was badly hit, imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns where no one was allowed out for walks or exercise for six weeks until the government began slowly easing the rules, first for children.

At the end of 2020, the Spanish authorities began a rapid vaccination campaign, becoming one of the global frontrunners with more than 91 percent of the population over the age of 12 now fully vaccinated.

Despite high vaccination rates, Covid cases exploded over Christmas, with Spain’s daily infections hitting a record of nearly 180,000, giving it one of Europe’s highest incidence rates.

But case numbers have plunged in recent weeks, with many regions dropping extra restrictions put in place to tackle Omicron and the government dropping the mandatory use of face masks outdoors, a measure reimposed just before Christmas.

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COVID-19 STATS

Outbreak or seventh wave? Health experts divided as Covid cases rise in Spain

Spain’s decision to stop counting all infections has some epidemiologists arguing health authorities are turning a blind eye to rising cases. But is the country truly heading towards a seventh wave?

Outbreak or seventh wave? Health experts divided as Covid cases rise in Spain

Three weeks since the Easter holidays came to a close and the indoor face mask rule was lifted in Spain, the Covid infection rate among over-59s has increased considerably, for most health experts predictably. 

It’s double what it was on April 1st – going from 459 cases per 100,000 up to 813 per 100,000 – and although Covid hospitalisations have risen by 78 percent in a month, pressure on hospitals remains stable. 

Not that this can be considered a complete picture of the epidemiological situation in Spain as the health ministry decided last March it would stop requesting data from the regions for infections among under-60s. 

This is part of the Spanish government’s plan of managing Covid-19 in a similar way to other endemic diseases such as seasonal influenza. 

The focus in recent weeks has been lifting Covid restrictions, not counting and reporting all Covid infections as frequently and rigorously and keeping a close eye only on the elderly and vulnerable. In a nutshell, returning to life pre-coronavirus.

But for some epidemiologists, the 55,578 new infections and 234 Covid deaths in the past week are indicative of the fact that the virus is still raging strong and that the end of Covid rules may have come too soon.

“We’re not facing a silent wave of the pandemic.  We’re walking blindfolded into a new wave, we don’t want to see it and we don’t want to name it,” Daniel López-Acuña, former director of emergencies at the World Health Organisation, told public broadcaster RTVE.

“There is a considerable rise in the infection rate, and  a rise in the infection rate sustained over time is a new wave, whether you want to call it that or not , López-Acuña added, arguing that if the incidence in under-60s were also analysed, “we would see the same infection rate or greater”.

Epidemiologist Quique Bassat argues that although there is talk among health experts of a seventh wave, “what we don’t know is how long it will last and if this is the beginning of what will end up being a seventh wave, or if it’s really just a new outbreak.” 

For Bassat, who is regularly interviewed on La Sexta and Antena 3 news, a rise in cases after the Easter holidays and the removal of face masks indoors is “what was expected”, but that “doesn’t mean that the population should be scared” and it “isn’t necessary to change the current strategy” of the health ministry.

“Pressure on healthcare is what has to determine if we should take a step back in the de-escalation of Covid-19 measures,” Bassat concludes.

It’s clear that the Spanish government’s approach to this stage of the pandemic is subject to a variety of opinions among the scientific community.

Some health experts, such as immunologist Matilde Cañelles of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), consider it “irresponsible” to stop quarantine for positive cases and not count infections when there are still 30 people dying of Covid every day in Spain. 

Others take a more pragmatic approach and call for the fourth dose (second booster) of the Covid-19 booster vaccine to be offered to over-80s in the country as previously suggested, as the infection rate in this group is now over the 1,000 per 100,000 mark.

For epidemiologist Oriol Mitjà, Covid-19 adviser for the Catalan government, the coming weeks will shed more light on how big this coronavirus wave will be.

“Omicron is a variant with vaccine escape and with the potential to infect up to 60-70 percent of the population. 30 percent were infected at Christmas, 30 percent will avoid it and 30 percent can be infected now,” Mitjà tweeted.

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