Number of covid patients in ICU doubles in under three weeks

Catalan Government prioritises third doses to stop ravages of Omicron variant, a year after first vaccines were administered

3 min
A nurse working in a covid area of the Hospital de Sant Pau, in an archive image

BarcelonaOn 15 November, when we had not yet heard of the Omicron variant – the first case in Catalonia was confirmed on 2 December and the first case in Spain on 29 November – there were 96 patients with covid in Catalan hospitals' ICUs. On Christmas Day the number had quadrupled to 381. And since the December long weekend (on the 7th there were 189 patients in ICUs), the number has doubled. In fact, the figure exceeds that of Christmas Day last year, when there were 333 patients in intensive care. The effects of the holidays on infections and hospitalisations greatly concern the health authorities.

Even so, this Christmas numbers are far from last winter's fourth wave peak, recorded in early February, with 729 ICU admissions. Health authorities hope new restrictions and vaccination, the differential factor with last year, will mean this scenario will be avoided. On 27 December 2020 Josefa Perez was the first Catalan to get vaccinated against coronavirus in the Feixa Llarga nursing home. The authorities called it a "historic" moment after nine months suffering the pandemic, and thanks to the efforts of thousands of professionals involved in vaccination, it has now become routine. A year later, over 13,400,000 doses have been administered in Catalonia, according to the Health Department's latest count.

Josefa Perez, the first person to receive the vaccine against coronavirus in Catalonia

The good balance of the first year of the vaccination campaign contrasts with the concern about the rise of the Omicron variant and the effects that the Christmas holidays may have on the increase in cases. According to the latest health data, over 1,200,000 positive cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Between 16 and 22 December – the last week with available data – 60,022 confirmed infections with PCR or antigen tests have been recorded, almost double the number of the previous week. Although the number of tests has been much lower because of the Christmas holidays, in the last few hours 8,500 cases have been detected (on December 24 there were more than 12,000).

Outside ICU, the number of hospitalised covid patients also continues to rise. In total there are 1,389 people in hospital due to covid. Two weeks ago there were 912. The number of hospitalisations is also slightly higher than a year ago, although the big difference with last Christmas is in mortality. In the week before Christmas last year – before the vaccination campaign against covid had started – 310 people died from the virus. This week there were 135. Since the beginning of the pandemic 24,453 people have died.

It remains to be seen whether the restrictions imposed by the government with the approval of the judiciary, including a night-time curfew, will be effective. Night clubs and bars are expected to file an appeal to Catalonia's High Court against the closure of nightclubs, which the Generalitat forced to close again last Thursday.

Vaccinating on Christmas Day

In the last week the Catalan Government has concentrated its efforts on third doses for people vaccinated with AstraZeneca, who are the most vulnerable to infection with the Omicron variant. "The absolute priority is vaccination," repeated the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas. To try to curb the ravages of the new variant and ease the resulting hospital pressure, the Generalitat has intensified its efforts in the administration of the third dose. Vaccines were administered on Christmas Day and Sant Esteve, and this week the efforts will focus on the over 50, who have been eligible for a booster since last Tuesday.

At the moment, 62% of over-65s vaccinated with AstraZeneca have already received a booster dose, as well as 55% of those aged between 60 and 64. According to the Health Department, more than 280,000 people between 50 and 59 years have made appointments since Tuesday to get a booster shot and 6.8% have already received it. With the prospect of opening vaccination soon for the over 40s, the Health Department has prepared an event this Monday morning to commemorate the first anniversary of the vaccination campaign and pay homage to the work of the professionals involved in the campaigns at the Fira de Barcelona, the largest mass vaccination point in Catalonia.