Spain has the highest incidence rate of Covid in Europe, after reporting 117,775 new infections and 116 Covid deaths in just a single day.
With the Christmas and New Year holiday period now over, the sixth wave of Covid is continuing to spike breaking records in the country.
The Health Ministry last night released new figures after three days with no official data due to New Year’s Eve followed by the weekend. Figures show that 372,766 new infections have been detected since Thursday, pushing the cumulative incidence to 2,295 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous 14 days. This is a spike in the indicator of 520 points, and represents the biggest increase since the start of the pandemic. The growth in cases is also much higher this week than last, after Christmas, when the incidence rate rose 295 points and 215,000 infections were detected.
The latest Ministry of Health data shows that hospitalisations are also on the rise. Data shows that on Monday there were 12,339 Covid patients occupying 10.1% of hospital beds, compared to 9,350 just a week ago.
The number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) has also risen to 1,974, that’s a percentage of 21.2% who are occupying a bed.
The problem now is that the wave is still increasing and no one knows when it will actually peak. While the number of infected people that end up in hospital beds might well be low, the number of ICU patients is such that these units are actually at risk of problems. There are already hospitals that are postponing non-urgent surgeries and this could very well become a generalised issue in the coming weeks.
According to Álex Arenas, a professor of computer science and mathematics at the Rovira i Virgili University, the peak of this wave is likely to be reached mid-January. “The fall will likely be quick, as was the rise, but the hospitals are facing very tough weeks,” he explained.
He believes that the majority of infections that are caused by the new Omicron variant are still not being reflected in hospital occupation figures, something that he says will begin to happen this week and next. “We will return to having high pressure on hospitals, and many healthcare workers will be off sick. With so many infections and fewer staff, it’s going to be a problem.”
Official statistics show that since the beginning of the pandemic 6,785,286 people have been infected with the virus and the total number of fatalities stands at 89,689, after a further 116 deaths were added in the last 24 hours.
The incidence rate seems to be increasing most amongst young people aged between 20 and 29 years of age (3,831) and those aged between 30 and 39 years (3,228). These age groups are the least vaccinated with approximately 80 per cent, ten points less than the national average and these groups also socialise the most.
The infection data for all of Spain’s regions, which are in control of their coronavirus restrictions, healthcare systems and vaccination campaigns are at never-before-seen levels. The cumulative incidence rate is currently in excess of 5,500 cases per 100,000 residents in Navarre, which tops the list by a large margin. The Basque Country follows with 4,412 per 100,000 and Aragón with 3,440. It is only Andalusia that is below the 1,500 mark with 1,482 cases per 100,000.
While this new wave continues to rise, the data is less correlative and comparable. The healthcare system is overloaded due to the virus spreading quickly, and has prompted a change in protocols. These changes mean that it is no longer necessary to trace anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and diagnostic tests are also no longer required for these contacts if they do not have Covid symptoms.
These new measures, combined with the large numbers of residents who are resorting to home-testing antigen kits from pharmacies, means that many infections are not being included in the official statistics.
In fact, according to epidemiologist Salvador Peiró, who is also head of research at the Fisabio foundation in Valencia, the infection figures “cannot be interpreted.” He explained that “Everything is going to be very confusing. We need to look at the information from the hospitals, they are the only ones we can trust, but these are figures that have a certain delay. By the time you see them, the situation is already upon us.”
Salvador Tanche, President of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (SEMFYC), believes that in the short term “the forecast is bad. A rise in cases due to Christmas and New Year lunches and dinners is expected.”
“What’s needed, and it is already happening, is a change in the way of managing this wave, given that it is much milder than others, but more infectious; it makes the work of tracing, contact studying and diagnostics all useless. We need to manage the pandemic like we manage the flu: mild symptoms are even more so when people are vaccinated, so self-care; moderate cases should consult with their family doctor; and for those more serious cases, they should go to hospital,” he argued.
Image Credit: Pool Moncloa / Fernando Calvo