Catalonia considering easing travel restrictions on Monday if data favourable
Argimon confident EMA will back use of Janssen vaccine and State will authorise delayed administration of second doses
BarcelonaEpidemiological indicators are stabilising but occupation of hospital beds is still very high and unstable. This could lead the Catalan government to ease restrictions on mobility on Monday. Tv3's Planta Baixa took for granted that this would happen, although government spokesperson Meritxell Budó and Public Health Secretary Josep Maria Argimon have declined to confirm it. Instead, they pointed to the decision Civil Protection will take either Wednesday or Thursday, which will depend on the evolution of data in the next few hours.
Although Catalonia is already detecting fewer daily cases, it has not yet managed to reduce occupation in intensive care units (ICU), which remains close to 500 patients (499 according to today's update). The Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, is concerned about this weeks-long "erratic" behaviour of the most critical cases, which began to grow before Easter in a very similar way during the worst of the second wave and still remain too high. The number of hospitalised covid patients on the wards is going down: at this point there are 1,670, about fifty fewer than yesterday.
Now the dreaded Easter effect has been discarded, the virus is gradually losing strength and the reduction of positive cases is progressive. The rate of infection (Rt), which measures the speed with which covid spreads, has fallen dramatically from 1.19 on Monday to 1.07 today. When the Rt falls below 1, the spread of the virus begins to slow. "We are stable and we predict that this week we will remain so throughout the week," Argimon told RAC1.
If the data is favourable and hospital pressure decreases, Argimon has not ruled out the possibility of easing travel restrictions. However, he admitted that the Government has not yet made a decision - it will do so on Thursday or Friday - and stressed that its suitability must be assessed in Catalan Civil Protection (Procicat) meetings with technicians from the departments of Health and Home Affairs<.
As for the curfew, the secretary of Public Health has assured that personally he would be in favour of the recovery of fundamental rights and freedoms, but he has insisted that the Catalan government has not decided anything on this question either. The Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Sàmper, also raised recently the possibility of delaying the start of curfew and allow mobility beyond 10 pm, even before the state of alarm lapses. Everything, however, is linked to the evolution of the pandemic.
At the moment the drop in coronavirus diagnoses is timid but evident: while last Friday 1,600 cases per day on average were registered, this Tuesday the number is down to 1,278. This is despite the fact 16% more tests (188,762) were made than in the previous week (162,701). In addition, the positivity rate (6.11%) is already below the values prior to Easter (7.39%).
Effective Potential Growth (EPG), which measures the potential growth of the epidemic the next two weeks, has also fallen significantly to 297 points, 14 points lower than on Monday and 24 points lower than last week. Still, the 14-day cumulative incidence of cases per 100,000 inhabitants has grown to 277, 15 more than on Monday, since this period still includes the unreliable data from the holidays.
Spacing the second doses
20.4% of Catalans have already received at least one dose of the vaccine after 13,843 vaccines were injected in the last 24 hours: 11,717 first doses and 2,126 second doses. Since 27 December Catalonia has administered 1.5 million first doses and 503,501 second doses.
Argimon has been optimistic about achieving 70% of vaccinated population in summer. "In May and June we will have a shipment of vaccines that will allow us to advance in vaccination," he said, referring to the announcement made by the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, on the weekly arrival of 1.7 million doses from April 26.
Regarding the vaccination strategy, he said he is confident that the Spanish government and the autonomous communities will agree this week to change the criteria that would allow the second doses of Pfizer and Moderna to be delayed for six or eight weeks to accelerate vaccination, and recalled that with the first vaccines there has already been a significant reduction in infections, mortality and serious cases.
The Ministry of Health has to discuss and decide before Wednesday whether to change tack and adopt the same strategy as the United Kingdom. It will then have to make a suggestion to the Interterritorial Council and the regions. "Vaccination reduces mortality and hospitalisations. The more people receive a first dose, the faster we will protect the population," Argimon has summarised.
The Secretary of Public Health has also recognised that it would be a good thing if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would resolve in favour of the administration of the Janssen vaccine, which is paralysed while the possible relationship with some rare cases of thrombosis is studied, as already happened with AstraZeneca's vaccine. In his opinion, if it is true that the cases detected are only those that have reached the media, "the benefits far outweigh the risks".