Spain struggling to contain third coronavirus wave

  • Conneixons
  • 2021-01-28
  • 1017

The Spanish government suspended flights arriving from the United Kingdom, apart from those carrying passengers who either have Spanish nationality or are residents in Spain, until February 2. But few other measures were taken to control contagions. Every region, with the exception of Valencia, opened their borders over Christmas to allow people to see relatives and close friends – despite warnings from health experts that it would lead to a third wave of infections. These warnings were made even before the news emerged about the new strain of the virus.

Anna Llupià, a specialist in preventive medicine and public health at Clínic hospital in Barcelona, believes – like other experts consulted by EL PAÍS – that the new strain is not being taken seriously enough. “Without a doubt, it has a stronger aerosol component [in air transmission]. Internationally, it is talked of as a pandemic within a pandemic and the measures we have now are definitely not enough,” she says. In Germany, however, the issue is being taken seriously. Although the country has a much lower incidence rate than Spain – 319 compared to 828 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – all public life has been practically locked down for the past two months. In response to the new variant, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that immediate action was needed. In addition to the current measures, it is now mandatory in Germany to wear a so-called “medical mask,” such as the FFP2, in stores and public transportation, instead of a cloth mask.

Most epidemiologists who spoke to EL PAÍS say the main problem is that Spain has taken a reactive – not proactive – approach to the pandemic. Since the beginning of December, health experts have been recommending strict and short lockdowns to cut transmission and prevent the situation that Spain is now facing. “I don’t understand who has benefited from these months of agony and intermittent restrictions, instead of shorter and stricter periods [of confinement],” says Llupià.

What now?

Experts agree that a different approach from the second wave is needed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “The triumphalism of a few months ago was surprising,” says Hernán. “While areas with greater incidence continued to spread the virus across the country, and increase the risk of new mutations due to its wide spread, the incidence rate never dropped low enough to empty out hospitals to safe levels. We were playing with fire by maintaining the high occupancy rate in ICUs throughout autumn and we have been burned. Now the pandemic is terrible for anyone who needs intensive care, be it for Covid-19, a heart attack or a traffic accident.”

Indeed a wave of the pandemic was considered over, even when most regions were at “high risk,” according to the Health Ministry’s own coronavirus alert system. Madrid was praised for cutting transmission without closing down bars and restaurants, when the virus was still spreading throughout the region. Experts say these mistakes must not be repeated. “We know that the virus responds to the measures that we take: if they are tough, the incidence rate and transmission fall,” says epidemiologist Javier del Águila. “We are going to have to do what we know and accept that over Christmas [when restrictions were relaxed to allow family gatherings] we were wrong.”

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