Catalonia faces a fourth wave in the middle of Easter Week
The Government rules out tightening the restrictions but appeals to social responsibility during the holiday
BarcelonaThe Government has once again appealed to the population's prudence and responsibility to contain the spread of coronavirus during the Easter holiday. "The contagions are rising but we are in time to curb the growth and avoid a very pronounced fourth wave," said Catalan Minister of Health Alba Vergés on Wednesday, who for the first time has referred to a possible new spike and has urged people to respect the bubbles of coexistence and the measures in force "more than ever".
The health authorities have thanked the population for their efforts, especially in recent months in which fundamental rights such as mobility have been restricted, but warned that we are once again facing "critical days" due to the growth in cases, combined with the dominance of the British variant and the possible effect that Easter may have. This was already touched on yesterday by the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon: "We are facing a situation of clear ascent and now we have to see if we will get to a plateau or continue to rise."
The general secretary of the Health Department, Marc Ramentol, has stressed that the Catalan Government will again need the complicity of the population to stop the spread of contagion and modulate the magnitude of a fourth wave that, at the moment, is much lower than the beginnings of the previous ones, but that would come at a very complicated moment, in the middle of a vaccination campaign. "We are asking that over these holidays the population is extremely cautious because it will be decisive for the shape the curve takes in the coming weeks," said Ramentol.
At the moment, all epidemiological indicators are rising and Catalonia recorded about 1,330 coronavirus infections a week on average, i.e. 225 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days. The rate of contagion or Rt, which calculates the speed of contagion, already stands at 1.19 and, therefore, it is confirmed that the pandemic has entered an expansion phase: every hundred cases cause 119 new contagions. The positivity rate, however, has not rocketed and is close to 5.7%; the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends it stays below 5%, and hospitals are still very full.
Right now there are 1,498 coronavirus patiens in hospital and 411 in intensive care units (ICU). Precisely, the increase in critical areas led the Government to tighten restrictions in previous waves, but Ramentol has claimed that the health system "has been preparing" to take on more and more patients of the new onslaught without measures of social intervention or public health. "We do not rule out that we can cope with the epidemic growth without changing the current measures and, if we do, it will be a success because we know the harm the restrictions cause," he added.
In fact, the Health Department argues that there is still "a window of opportunity" to stop an explosive advance of cases if the population is extremely cautious and makes even more efforts, and has denied that the Government has in mind to deploy new measures after Easter. "At no time have we said that we will lock the population at home, restrict mobility more or increase limitations. This nuance is very important because an appeal to caution cannot be understood as a prophecy," insisted Ramentol.
The clarification comes after the Minister for Home Affairs, Miquel Sàmper, said that the Government could again restrict mobility between counties (comarcas) when the current restrictions expire on April 10. "If the indicators worsen, logic tells us that we would have to take a step back in the measures," he said, admitting that the issue had not yet been agreed or discussed with Catalonia's Civil Protection. "When the Health Department presents its report on the evolution of the indicators, we will debate it," he explained. On the other hand, Sàmper does see it as important to "soften" the curfew, which for months has limited mobility between 10 pm and 6 am, because it is a very restrictive measure. "Hopefully soon we will have such good indicators that we will be able to eliminate it," he admitted.
More than 330,000 journeys
All the government's effort is directed at sending a message of caution to the population in the face of the Easter holidays. The Department of Home Affairs expects about 331.000 -at the most about 377.000- vehicles to leave the metropolitan area of Barcelona between Thursday and Friday. Travellers are expected to head to the typical Easter destinations: Berguedà, Cerdanya, Ripollès, Costa Brava and Costa Dorada. Sàmper has stressed that the journeys are not dangerous if people stay within their bubble.
Thus, the minister has highlighted that there was not a big surge in traffic last weekend - when the school holidays started - with numbers below the minimum expected. On Monday, 514,800 vehicles are expected to return to Barcelona and its surroundings between 12 and 22 h, making the most of the hours before curfew. There will be police checkpoints throughout to make sure regulations are observed.
The Government has noted an increase in day trips, which is good news for the ski resorts in the Pyrenees, as well as those of Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Molina, Vallter 2000, Vall de Núria, Spot, Port Ainé and Boí Taüll). They expect an increase in the number of customers during these days, as already happened in the first phase of Easter, after a tough season due to mobility restrictions.