Loosening of social norms accelerates the rate of contagion and slows the bending of the curve
Hospital pressure slowly dropping, authorities call for remaining vigilant
Santa Coloma de GramenetThe good epidemiological trend that Catalonia had achieved after a month and a half of hard restrictions has cracked. Milestones such as the bending of the coronavirus curve at a rapid and constant rate, or the achievement of very low values in decisive data such as the infection rate (R), have been sharply curbed and now the decline is increasingly "imperceptible", according to the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon. With vaccines on the way and Christmas just around the corner - despite the fact that its celebration is disassociated from the plan to loosen the restrictions -, Catalonia has to regain momentum to reverse the worsening of the data and contain the spread, whatever the limitations to social interaction entail.
The health authorities predicted that this week would be key to guessing where the balance was tipped ten days after the progressive reopening of several economic sectors, including the hospitality industry. At that time there were two plausible scenarios, and all predicted that the indicators would rebound from increased mobility and social interaction. For example, crowds had been seen on bar outdoor spaces. One of the options was that the data would grow slightly but still remain below the maximum thresholds - which was the Government's forecast, at least, for this whole week. The other option was for them to shoot up.
Unfortunately, the second scenario is the one that has been imposed, and only four days after the loosening of restrictions started, the infection rate (R), which measures how fast the virus is spreading and, therefore, how fast new infections are generated from a single infection, has jumped from a more than acceptable 0.77 points to a dangerous 0.95 points. "We are at a time when the cumulative incidence is falling very slowly and, in contrast, the R is rising" the General Secretary of Salut, Marc Ramentol, admitted yesterday, and added that this change in trend has happened earlier than expected.
The R shot up on November 26, and these values were not expected until this weekend. Salut's forecast is that even today the value of the R is rising. According to Argimon, if the indicator remains between 0.90 and 1, new infections will continue to decrease. On the other hand, if this threshold is exceeded, they will increase. The closer we are to 1, the more likely it is that the epidemic will get out of control.
"Christmas is not in danger"
Epidemiological radiography shows that there is still room for manoeuvre to prevent the pandemic from accelerating: the rest of the key indicators have not increased as much as the R - they have slowed down. Both deaths and diagnoses per 100,000 population, or the positivity rate, continue to fall. However, they are doing so at a slower pace. For example, if before the loosening of restrictive measures new cases fell by 6% every day - and even diagnostic tests were reduced because there was less demand - now there is only a 3% daily drop in positive cases.
Another of the basic indicators for the Catalan Government is the pressure on hospitals. Yesterday there were still 1,524 people admitted, 418 of whom were in intensive care units (ICU). These are figures that do not allow for any false steps to be taken, since another trickle of hospitalizations similar to that of October would be the coup de grace for the public health system. About ten people leave the ICU every day, but Salut does not distinguish in its daily reports whether these people are discharged, or pass away.
"We will have to be attentive to the evolution of the data, and this will depend in large part on what each person does. We will see the result in the middle or end of next week", Ramentol said on Friday. The General Secretary insisted that the government's priority is to guarantee the Christmas plan because "people need it" and defended that, for now, the holidays "are not in danger". However, he said, "the Three Wise Kings can bring us an epidemic outbreak". The acting President, Pere Aragonès, also recognized that "everybody is exhausted of the restrictions", but he assured that there is no alternative. "It would be the worst time to relax", he concluded, and called on the population not to lower their guard.