Increase in infections already affects health centres and hospitals
Catalan government's advisory committee wanted covid pass also to be necessary to access theatres and cinemas
BarcelonaThe pandemic's growth in Catalonia is already undeniable: the curve of infections began to grow around All Saints, at the beginning of the month, and twenty days later it has reached 7,758 new cases a week, i.e. more than a thousand cases a day on average. And this increase in new infections is already affecting the health system. In primary care there have been 9,000 consultations related to covid in the last 24 hours, about 41,000 in the last week. In Catalan hospitals the number of hospitalisations due to the virus has also grown by 60% in a week and this Wednesday there are already 565 admitted to hospital (48 more than yesterday), 127 of them in intensive care units (ICU), eight more than on Tuesday. The vast majority are over 50. However, while admitting concern about "the significant increase" in activity related to coronavirus since the weekend across the country, Catalan Secretary of Public Health Carmen Cabezas claimed that the impact of this new onslaught is much lower than that of previous waves. "At the moment it has a similar behaviour to the fifth wave, which reinforces the idea that vaccination is very useful to prevent the severity of the disease and deaths," she said.
Mortality data, which bounced back this week, is low when compared to other waves, as Cabezas stressed. In the last seven days there have been 27 fatalities, four deaths per day on average, but according to data from the Department of Health the lethality of the virus (the number of people infected with covid that end up dying) has decreased with each wave: it has gone from 21% in the first wave, to 2% in the third and 0.7% in the fifth. The current figure is very provisional and stands at 0.3% of cases, and that is why the Health Department has again appealed to the unvaccinated, which make up 16% of the population over 12, to get the jab. She stressed it is the most "useful" way to prevent the serious consequences of infection.
If hospitalisations increase it is because there is more transmission of the virus and vaccines are not infallible, but not because they have lost effectiveness in protecting against severe infections. Cabezas pointed out that, compared to those who are fully immunised, unvaccinated people are up to 3 times more at risk of becoming infected, 2.3 times more at risk of ending up in hospital and 4.2 times more likely to enter an ICU. In addition, the likelihood of having to be admitted to a health centre is multiplied by 18 if the unvaccinated person is between 60 and 79. If we take as a reference the entire population over 50, which is the most at risk of suffering severely from the disease, they are up to three times more likely to end up in hospital and five times more likely to enter an ICU than vaccinated people of the same age.
To prevent the spike in cases from getting out of control and more serious cases in hospitals, Cabezas has asked the population to limit social interaction and take extreme precautions to curb infections with the approach of the December bank holiday, company dinners and Christmas parties. That is, wear a mask, prioritise very ventilated spaces and meet only your bubble group or people with whom you have "a close relationship".
The Catalan Government wants to make the covid pass a requirement to enter bars, restaurants and gyms, and to ensure safe visits to nursing homes. The measure only affects 16% of the population but as it infringes on fundamental rights, it requires the authorisation of Catalonia's High Court. The executive, however, is confident that it will be approved and come into force on Friday midnight. In fact, the Secretary of Public Health has confirmed that the report arguing in favour of the measure will be sent to the court this Wednesday.
Epidemiologist and president of the Government's scientific advisory committee on covid, Magda Campins, accompanied Cabezas at the press conference and admitted that the experts' proposal envisaged covid pass also becoming a requirement for the cultural sector (theatres, cinemas and concerts) and the health sector (hospital, primary care and social and health care staff). "Ours is a document to cut the chains of transmissions to the maximum, but we are aware that it is not easy to implement. Not only does it depend on the Government, but also the High Court, which has to approve it," the expert argued, who states that if the epidemiological situation worsens, it will be necessary to extend the restriction to these sectors.
The recommendations of the group of experts led by Campins are articulated around three indicators: if whether 14-day cumulative incidence is growing, whether the percentage of antigen tests that come back positive exceeds 4% and whether primary care receives over 10,000 visits per day. And the interpretation of all three at the same time gives rise to three levels of contagion alert, from which the authorities would have to take measures. The low level, which is the scenario Catalonia was in until a few weeks ago, would include only the use of covid pass for nightlife and social events where there is dancing. The moderate level would maintain these uses and extend it to all types of events with over 500 people. And the high level, which is what the Government wants to apply now, would also extend it to risk areas such as restaurants, gyms and the cultural sector. For the moment, however, the Government has not included the cultural sector in this new restriction.
At the moment, Catalonia has a cumulative incidence of 165 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, 8.46% of tests come back negative and there almost 10,000 daily visits to primary care. Thus, and according to the scientific advisory committee, it is in a situation of high risk of transmission. "On whether [the mandatory certificate] will be enough or not [to curb transmission], we think it can help, along with other measures, such as the use of the mask," Cabezas said. But the Department of Health has bet everything on the court's endorsement, since there is no plan B. "We have started by applying for it in these three clear and limited areas because we know that they are associated with a high risk of contagion," Cabezas summarised.