Health minister warns: "still in pandemic in 2022"

Catalan Minister of Health acknowledges that the pandemic has slowed the diagnosis and treatment of common diseases

Montse Riart
3 min

BarcelonaIt is not quite over yet. The Catalan Minister of Health, Josep Maria Argimon, explained in an interview to the newspaper ARA with Antoni Bassas, that both this year and next Catalonia will still live immersed in the fight against covid-19. "We will clearly still be in a pandemic in 2022," said Argimon, who has clarified that this does not mean that the levels of infection or the severity of the disease will be the same as at present. In fact, he recalled that while in 2021 the virus has put pressure on the health system, last year it also claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Argimon has warned that the level of hospitalisations and admissions to ICU generated by the fifth wave will still take two weeks to "stabilise". In fact, Catalonia now has over 500 covid patients in ICU, according to the latest data reported by the Department of Health, a figure not recorded since last April. The impact of the fifth wave is still noticeable in hospitals but the curve of infections is gradually stabilising. That is why Argimon believes that in the coming weeks there will be no need to tighten restrictions. "We are talking about rights and freedoms, this is not any old thing. If things were to get much worse, all possible options would have to be considered, but not at the moment."

However, the Minister of Health admitted that the fact that the health care system has been prioritising the fight against the pandemic for a year and a half has slowed its ability to diagnose and treat other common diseases, such as coronary heart disease or cancer. In this sense, Argimon has warned that this will take its toll on the approach to all common diseases and that in a few months there "will be a wave of currently silenced diseases".

Argimon recalled that the health crisis has decreased life expectancy in Catalonia by "a year and a half", which had not happened since the Civil War. Even so, Argimon is confident that the system will be able to change the situation quickly and that the impact on the monitoring of other pathologies is "temporary and short". But it will be necessary to inject more resources to public health, he said.

Argimon acknowledged that the Generalitat and the other administrations failed to foresee the real impact of the fifth wave and admitted that messages of "easing", including a schedule for the opening of stadiums or the end of compulsory mask use did not help. In this sense, he explained that he understood "the anger" and "the fatigue" of health professionals who for more than a year and a half have fought on the front line against the virus. Argimon has explained that so far have no staff holiday has been cancelled, although some days off have.

Thinking about global immunity

Despite the impact of the fifth wave, Argimon wanted to highlight the pace of vaccination. The forecast of the Health Department is to finish vaccinating the youngest group (over-16s) at the end of August. In September, coinciding with the new school year, it will consider whether to vaccinate teenagers between the ages of 12 and 16. Argimon warns that it will not be a decision made at Catalan level, as the vaccination strategy is decided for the EU as a whole. Even so, he explained that when thinking about achieving herd immunity is not enough to vaccinate the entire Catalan or Spanish population. And he recalled that vaccination levels worldwide are still very low - they do not even reach 2% of the world population - and that they need to be improved in order to think about a real way out of the health emergency.

"We must show solidarity, even if it is out of selfishness," Argimon said. In fact, he believes that before thinking about whether or not a third dose of the vaccine will be needed, we must address the transfer of vaccines on a global scale, to improve the numbers and achieve a real herd immunity.

With a view to the return to classrooms in September, he explained that we will have to discuss again - with epidemiological data in hand - whether or not facemasks will be needed in schools, and at what levels. Everything will depend on the situation at each given time, he said. Therefore, he neither made prediction on what may be the level of capacity for major events in the near future, such as football matches.

Argimon did rule out the use of a covid certificate to enjoy cultural events, sports or to enter restaurants in Catalonia. These have been applied in Italy, France, the Canary Islands and Galicia. According to Argimon, the measure would be "discriminatory", taking into account that not all of the Catalan population has been offered a vaccine yet.