Spain has seen its Covid transmission rate fall to the ‘low risk’ level for the first time since July 2020.
According to the latest figures that were released on Thursday evening, the cumulative number of Covid cases per 100,000 residents has, for the first time since July 28, 2020, fallen below 50 cases to 48.92.
With the incidence rate being below 50 cases, Spain’s coronavirus alert system puts the country into the ‘low risk’ category.
The fall in infections along with the low rates of hospital occupancy, have put Spain in a similar position as it was back in spring last year, after the very strict lockdown.
As a country, Spain is now seeing fewer Covid-19 cases than most other EU countries and this is regardless of there being very few social restrictions in place.
With 87.4 per cent of the country now fully vaccinated, the pressure of people being hospitalised with the infection has eased. On Thursday, a total of 2,088 people were admitted to hospital, 551 of whom were in intensive care units (ICU’s). These figures are very low considering that in January, during the third Covid wave, there were more than 30,000 people hospitalised.
Some experts however are still worrying that the healthcare system could once again be put under pressure due to other respiratory viruses that appear between autumn and winter.
Even though Spain has reached its goal of the incidence rate falling below 50 cases per 100,000 residents, safety measures will remain the same, but it does put the epidemiological curve on track to drop below 25 cases per 100,000 residents. This is the threshold that scientists believe indicates that the virus is under control.
Alberto Infante, emeritus professor of International Health at the National Health School of the Carlos III Health Institute, outlines the situation as “a moment of optimism with prudence.”
"We have a low incidence rate, but this hides the enormous differences among regions and age groups,” he explains.
Most experts do agree that, barring a new mutation of the virus surfacing, Spain has in fact left the worst of the Covid pandemic behind. Spain's regions, which are in charge of their own Covid restrictions, healthcare systems and vaccination plans can be seen progressively moving towards the ‘new normality’.
Gradually the restrictions for the opening of nighttime venues and limits on opening hours and capacity are being lifted and there is currently no sign of cases rising, however, the public are being asked to “not lower their guard.”
Experts are also calling for the epidemiological monitoring system to be strengthened so that if any possible coronavirus outbreaks should occur, they can be addressed quickly.
Pedro Gullón, from the Spanish Epidemiology Society, is in the opinion that it is “reasonable and even desirable” for restrictions to be lifted. But he admits that it must be done consistently across all areas: “If we are acting in places with a very high economic impact, such as bars, which I am not criticizing, it doesn’t make sense that restrictions are not lifted in other areas such as libraries or hospital visits, which has a high social impact.”
Daniel López-Acuña, the former director of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the pandemic is not yet over, he said that “The average incidence of 50 is not a magic number nor a safe number to aspire to. The virus remains active and we cannot hasten the relaxation of restrictions, especially in schools.”
López-Acuña also said he did not want the use of face masks or social distancing to be relaxed. “Variants could emerge that are resistant to the vaccine. We have to be very cautious at a time when other respiratory viruses are appearing,” he stated.
“Winter is usually the season that sees the convergence of other microorganisms that cause respiratory illnesses, such as the flu or respiratory syncytial virus, which cause most cases of bronchiolitis in small children.”
In the northwestern region of Galicia, the incidence rate of 19 has been recorded, this is compared to 79 in Cantabria and roughly 75 in Catalonia and Aragón. They are however both hurrying to lift Covid restrictions.
Outside of schools, there are very few restrictions in place other than the use of wearing a face mask in enclosed spaces and the recommendation of ventilating indoor areas and social distancing rules.
Catalonia announced only this week that nighttime venues will open on Friday and all universities will return to 100 per cent face to face classes. However, anyone attending will be required to provide a Covid certificate that certifies they have either tested negative for the virus via a PCR test, are fully vaccinated or have had Covid-19 over the last six months.
This measure does, however, still need to be approved by the Catalan High Court.
In Madrid, all capacity restrictions have been lifted in the food and entertainment sector, while in Spain’s Basque Country, outdoor stadiums are now allowed to open at full capacity (indoor sports centres like basketball stadiums remain at 80% capacity).
The health chief of Andalusia, Jesús Aguirre, said on Tuesday that restrictions on capacity and opening hours are expected to be lifted in around two-thirds of the southern region on Friday.
Like Alberto Infante, Pedro Gullón believes that it is important that Spain now focus on improving its monitoring system and taking preventive action. He said “Perhaps we shouldn’t be either triumphant, thinking we are free of risk, or defeatist, trying to maintain limits that people are very tired of. Now that there are few cases is the time to act with more epidemiological intelligence so that, if problems do emerge, such as a virus that resists the vaccines or if these lose their effectiveness, we can act early.”
Infante also argues that "epidemiological monitoring of the coronavirus must be strengthened." He believes that the incidence rate will remain at the 50 cases threshold for some time to come.
Image Credit: La Moncloa
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