As the new highly transmissible variant Omicron continues to sweep the country, Spain's authorities have signalled that they may soon adopt a new Covid-19 surveillance system similar to the one currently used to track influenza.
Speaking to radio station Cadena Ser on Monday, the country’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez (pictured) said that the modification to the system would mean treating COVID-19 as an “endemic illness” rather than a pandemic given that despite a recent surge in cases, the number of fatalities remains relatively low.
It also means that the post-pandemic approach will mean moving away from the current rigorous testing regime to one where only those who show stronger symptoms are tested and treated appropriately.
Instead, the new muted ‘sentinel system’ will extrapolate the numbers from sample data, rather than monitoring every single diagnosed infection.
According to Spanish news outlet El País, the plan would be to survey a network of healthcare professionals at selected health facilities to ascertain the spread of the virus. A similar approach to that used to monitor influenza cases across Europe.
It is thought that the country’s Minister of Health, Carolina Darias has already spoken with her counterparts across the European Union, however, it is not yet known when the new system will go into effect although it is believed to be in its final phase.
Health officials from the Health Alert and Emergency Coordination Centre (CCAES), the National Epidemiology Centre (CNE) and the Ponencia de Alertas, which includes regional health technicians, will meet this week to discuss when and how the new surveillance system will be launched.
Amparo Larrauri, head of the influenza and other respiratory diseases surveillance group at CNE said, “Faced with this new reality, we are working on a transition from universal surveillance to sentinel surveillance for mild respiratory infections in primary centers and severe ones in hospitals. But you can’t change things overnight. We have international commitments [to report all cases] and the sentinel systems need to be consolidated,” she added.
It comes as figures from the country’s Ministry of Health which were published on Friday shows that the cumulative infection rate per 100,000 has now reached a record high of 2,722 with 242,440 new registered cases.
Sánchez said that most of the cases that were being registered were asymptomatic, adding: “We are going to have to learn to live with it as we do with many other viruses.”
Despite the success of the vaccination program, which has seen more than 90% of citizens now fully vaccinated, Spain continues to struggle with the spread of the Omicron variant which has placed a huge strain on Spanish hospitals.
Ministry figures show that there are 14,426 people currently receiving hospital treatment for Covid with 2,056 people requiring intensive care.
More than one in 10 hospital beds are now being taken up by those being treated for the virus with one in five ICU beds being used by Covid patients.
Image Credit: Pool Moncloa/Fernando Calvo