Preliminary results suggest two suspected cases of Omicron in Catalonia

Definitive sequencing won't be ready until Friday, and in the meantime governments rule out restrictions

3 min
Passatgers at the Prado airport in an archive image.

BarcelonaThe microbiology service of the University Hospital of Bellvitge has not yet finished sequencing the samples of the two suspected Omicron cases identified at El Prat airport, arriving from South Africa via Amsterdam. It has not been able to determine whether they contain the mutations of the Omicron variant. However, the Catalan Health Department admits that the most plausible outcome, expected by health authorities after the first case in Spain was recorded in Madrid on Monday, and the second on Tuesday, is that the two have been infected with the virus originating in South Africa. "The department cannot yet confirm 100% that the two suspected positive cases are of the Omicron variant, but preliminary results indicate that they could be," the Health Department wrote in a short statement. The Government's predictions are that the sequencing will be finished by the end of the week and the final results will be known on Friday. Also on Friday the additional restriction planned by the Generalitat in the short term will come into force: the reactivation of the mandatory use of the covid pass to access bars, restaurants, gyms, care homes and nightlife venues.

While waiting for the Department of Health to confirm or rule out the first two cases of the Omicron variant in Catalonia and despite the threat that the mutation of the virus will circulate in the country "sooner or later", the Government ruled out for now tightening restrictions in force. The executive's spokeswoman, Patrícia Plaja, said this Tuesday that no changes to containment measures are expected. "The situation is already complicated enough to add more distress. We do not have to change or modify the day to day, beyond those people who had planned to travel to places where this variant comes from," said Plaja, asking for "patience and calm" until there is "more contrasted information on the new variant".

Beyond strengthening epidemiological surveillance to isolate positive cases and avoid community circulation of the variant, the Spanish government is not considering the deployment of new restrictions, as Portugal is doing, which has already announced a partial lockdown after Christmas. "We have to try to vaccinate everyone and apply preventive measures. We choose these measures," said the Spanish Minister of Health, Carolina Darias. The socialist believes a new state of alarm unlikely and is confident that with vaccination and "many detection tests" the progress of the pandemic can be controlled. However, she admitted that "it is possible" that the Omicron variant is already circulating in Spain and that there are more cases than suspected because "there are no borders" in global mobility.

Second case confirmed in Madrid

The first case detected in Spain was confirmed by the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid and corresponds to a 51-year-old man who had travelled to South Africa via Amsterdam. This Tuesday the Madrid government confirmed that the Omicron variant is also present in the second suspected case, that of a woman who also arrived at Barajas airport from South Africa via Amsterdam, although on a different flight from the first confirmed positive. She is double vaccinated and has mild symptoms. In fact, Minister Darias explained that all of the Omicron positives arrived at Madrid airport with a negative PCR test result, as required for travellers. The infections were detected through additional controls with antigen tests aimed at passengers from high-risk countries, a rule in force since Saturday.

The socialist has assured that other travellers who were on the same plane as those infected are also being monitored, and tests of all persons who have arrived in the state in the last ten days from the seven countries of southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) will be reviewed. "The most important thing is to detect [cases] and put them in quarantine," he reiterated in an interview with SER radio.

In a few days almost a dozen European countries have identified positives containing the specific mutations of the omicron variant. Although there is virtually no evidence in this regard and many experts are calling for caution before enlargening the impact of the South African variant wrongly, the fact is that European authorities are keeping a close eye on it for fear that it may actually be more transmissible or may escape the protection of vaccines and change the rules of epidemiological control at a time when the continent is once again the epicentre of the pandemic, with 2.4 million infections in the last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the Omicron variant generates a "very high" global risk in terms of "new waves with serious consequences" and, given this risk, has asked governments to take containment measures (restrictions) and epidemiological surveillance (screening and sequencing of samples) as soon as possible, as well as to accelerate vaccination campaigns for the population at risk

The Supreme Court backs the use of covid passes to control the pandemic

The Supreme Court has set its position on Tuesday regarding the use of the covid pass in non-essential activities after accepting the appeal of the Basque Country, where the regional court decided to overturn the measure for nightlife and hospitality. With this court decision, the high court endorses the extension of this measure as epidemiological control and not only extends the possibility of using it in the Basque Country, but also Andalusia and Cantabria. The only regions that have publicly acknowledged that for now they do not want it to be used in the hospitality industry are Madrid, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha.