Catalonia again faces extreme risk of contagion

WHO warns State, which exceeds 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, like Cyprus and Portugal

4 min
Map of covid incidence in Europe.

Santa Coloma de GramenetOnly three countries in Europe have a cumulative incidence of more than 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and are therefore at extreme risk of infection: Cyprus (with 493 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), Portugal (240) and Spain (215). In fact, the latest report by Spain's Ministry of Health puts Catalonia's cumulative incidence as the highest in the state at 602. According to the epidemiological monitoring map published weekly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), all the territories that make up the Iberian Peninsula except Galicia and Castilla-La Mancha are red zones. This indicates that the virus is spreading unchecked, it is not feasible to carry out contact tracing and that over 4% of tests are coming back positive because the transmission chains are not effectively broken.

Map of covid incidence in Europe.

South-western Europe, a major tourist destination for tourists from all over the world, has become the epicentre of the fifth wave of covid in the middle of the summer season. In contrast, the virus is not wreaking havoc so far in countries like France and Italy, which maintain incidences rates of under 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In fact, most member states have low levels of infection. Ireland, Luxembourg and parts of Sweden and the Netherlands are at high risk of infection but not extreme, since they have over 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants but under 200 cases.

However, Spain has a much lower rate of covid-related deaths than some of these countries with a better epidemiological evolution: it reports about five deaths per million inhabitants compared to six in France and Italy, seven in Germany and twelve in Ireland. The explanation lies in the vaccination campaign, which, although it cannot prevent the boom in contagion, does protect the vast majority of immunised people from developing the disease in case of contagion or, at least, from developing the disease in its most severe forms.

Fourth most vaccinated country

A fast rate of vaccination is related to fewer hospitalisations and fewer deaths and the State is the fourth country in Europe with the highest percentage of population vaccinated with the full guideline, 41.7%. According to the report made by the research group in Computational Biology and Complex Systems of the UPC (BIOCOMSC) for the European Commission, Spain is only behind Hungary (52.5%), the United Kingdom (49.9%) and Cyprus (43.5%) in vaccination. The average immunisation rate in the EU is 36.4%, more than five percentage points below the Spanish rate.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has given Spain a warning and recalled that while vaccination is "vital", "we must do everything", referring to avoiding large gatherings of people and super-spreader events, keeping social distances and making use of masks. The ECDC also warned last week that relaxing measures in summer could lead to a "rapid and significant increase" in infections.

The Portuguese government brought back some restrictions in view of the exponential growth in cases, such as the introduction of a curfew in the largest cities, Lisbon and Porto. Spain, on the other hand, refuses to declare a curfew and does not plan to deploy restrictive measures across the board, but leaves it up to regions to decide which sectors they want to close to control the number of cases. Catalonia, for example, has once again suspended nightlife activities indoors, while Valencia, in addition to closing nightlife, has reduced opening hours and capacity for bars and restaurants and will ask its High Court authorisation to approve a curfew between 1 am and 6 am in places where there is a higher incidence of the virus.

Average age in ICU falls to 52

The WHO has also warned Spain of the "increasing risk of hospitalisations" that may suffer from the spread of the delta variant (originating in India), which would be 60% more contagious than the alpha variant (also known as British or Kentish), if the increase in cases and the great social interaction due to the lifting of restrictions continues. This impact is already being observed in Catalonia, where community transmission is completely out of control: 30,000 positive cases are being diagnosed every week, especially among people aged 10 to 39, and each case has at least nine contacts. Thus, there are currently 270,000 people who could also become cases in the next few days, most of whom will not even appear on the registers, as the Health Department has decided not to test asymptomatic contacts

The Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, has indicated that the increase in cases is resulting in a spike in hospital admissions, although not "with the same impact as other waves". The profile of the coronavirus patient arriving in intensive care units (ICU) has changed and is quite different to a few months ago. Now they are younger people, who spend less time in ICUs and recover more quickly, some without the need for mechanical ventilation support.

The average age of critical patients has dropped eleven years compared to the third wave - whereas between January and February average age of ICU patients was 63, now it is 52 - and they take about six days to leave. This last factor also depends on age: those aged 60 to 69 take approximately eleven days; those aged 30 to 49, six days, and those aged 20 to 29, four days.

In statements to ACN, a spokesman for the WHO has insisted that in order to protect with vaccination the full guideline must be administered. In Spain and Catalonia the vast majority of the population is not vaccinated or has only received one dose (57%). In this sense, Cabezas explained that this week and the next the Health Department will prioritise second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable age groups, especially those between 60 to 69. In addition, she has indicated that the availability of appointments for people aged 16 to 29 years will increase from July 19, when this group has been completely immunised.

700 cases among health workers

The other major concern of the health authorities is the effect the fifth wave may have on health centres. The director of the Catalan Health Service (CatSalut), Gemma Craywinckel, has reported that about 700 professionals are on leave after testing positive and, although she has not specified whether they are mild or serious cases, she has recalled that these people have to go into isolation and cannot work. "We have to avoid more casualties because the system is already at the limit," he recalled.