Automatic sick leave for covid back, but this time only for five days

Health Dpt brings back measure to avoid saturation of Health Centres, which already attend 15,000 visits per day

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A mother and daughter entering a CABEZA in Barcelona.

BarcelonaThe number of sick leaves due to covid (or at least due to symptoms compatible with the virus) has doubled in the last month due to the avalanche of infections during the seventh wave: about 5,000 infections are detected every day despite the fact that the real figure is much higher. Up until now, and since last May, diagnostic efforts were focused exclusively on the vulnerable population; those infected who felt unable to go to work (or work from home) had to go to their health centres in person to request a sick leave from their GP leave, who decided whether the symptoms they described were incapacitating. In short, the Department of Health standardised the evaluation and management of covid as if it were any other pathology. But as of Wednesday, due to the high incidence in the middle of the summer season, with fewer professionals working and with the fear that the health service could collapse for a third consecutive year, the Department has brought back online and automatic processing of sick leave for symptoms compatible with covid. This sick leave is limited (only valid for five days) and will allow the affected population to request sick leave on La Meva Salut app or the Salut website, without the need to provide a positive test and without having to make an appointment to visit their doctor.

As explained by the director of the Servei Català de la Salut (CatSalut), Gemma Craywinckel, online sick leave is not given by health centre GPs, but by the Catalan Institute of Health Assessments (ICAM). The ICAM then records the information in the patient's clinical history and, thus, the referring physician is informed of the decision. The procedure is identical to that of a face-to-face consultation, but in the digital space: the patient does not need to prove infection by taking a test, but has to fill in an online form explaining that he/she is unwell and specifying the symptoms that prevent him/her from working. If the ICAM doctor considers that it may be covid and authorises sick leave, it will be valid for five days if the person does not contact their health centre requesting an earlier discharge or requesting an extension because they have not yet recovered. The discharge will be processed automatically after this period.

Online limited sick leave is a measure which was already rolled out last January, in the midst of the escalation of infections in the sixth wave, to minimise the overload on the healthcare system, but above all to free primary care physicians from this bureaucratic procedures. At that time, however, this was managed on a deferred basis, was valid for seven days and required a self-diagnosis that proved infection in order to be able to request it. Craywinckel has not specified until when the measures will remain in place, since it will depend on the evolution of case numbers which, for the moment, continue on the rise.

"Some slowdown" in the rate of infection

With the full recovery of normality and the coronavirus circulating freely, infections continue to rise throughout Catalonia. The increase in numbers which was expected and which experts anticipated a few days ago will reach its peak in mid-July. In fact, the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, has anticipated that the most recent data from the Information System for the Surveillance of Infections in Catalonia (Sivic) suggest an incipient slowdown in the rate of new diagnoses, which are marked by the predominance of the new variants of omicron (BA.4 and BA.5 account for 75% of the sequenced samples), which are more contagious but not more serious.

The estimated incidence rate in Catalonia remains at around 400 positives per 100,000 inhabitants and the demand for care is also increasing. Healthcare centers have seen 105,024 patients for covid, 16% more than the previous week. The virus accounts for 9% of the total number of visits. Hospitalisations on the ward have also increased (by 12% in the last week) and now exceed 2,000 patients (only in half of cases was hospital admission due to covid) and the same happened about admissions to intensive care units (ICU), which jumped up to 51 critically ill patients. However, as health authorities have repeatedly explained, the healthcare impact of this wave compared to previous ones is very minor. "ICUs remain at historic lows," Cabezas emphasised.