Virus in retreat in Spain despite outbreaks, says chief of health

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The doctor at the helm of Spain’s fight against the coronavirus said that the recent regional outbreaks – especially in Catalonia – are worrying, but that in most countries, the infection rate is declining.

Fernando Simón, the chief epidemiologist leading the government battle against Covid-19, told the Financial Times that there were indications of community transmission in Lleida, the capital of the Catalan county of Segrià, which made subject to partial locking since the weekend. . Community transmission occurs when the cases are so widespread that it is not possible to identify the source of the infections.

Local authorities also imposed a partial foreclosure in the Galician region of A Mariña on Sunday, and at the end of last month restrictions were re-imposed in several counties in the province of Huesca in Aragon.

“The one that worries us the most right now is the one from Catalonia,” said Dr Simón in an interview, referring to the biggest upsurge in the world today. “Always when we have more and more cases, we have to worry and check that there is no epidemic or transmission that is not identified and detected.”

The number of new cases is decreasing in all three areas, he said, but suggested that the trend was not yet final in Segrià: “We think the control measures implemented are good but we still need to follow them for a few more days. . . to identify whether the impact was effective or not. “

However, in most of the country, the virus has remained in the background, said Dr Simón. “We are not generally making progress in Spain, we are making progress in these specific areas. Outside of these areas, the number of cases continues to decline, “he said.

Spain was one of the most affected countries when the pandemic peaked in Europe in March and April. Infections and deaths fell sharply under the country’s closure, which was phased out on June 21, but a number of epidemics have since erupted.

Dr. Simón – and more generally the government’s response to the crisis – is the subject of much debate in Spain, a politically polarized country where controversy is raging over whether the initial response to the virus was fast enough or decisive.

Asked about workload figures in Spain, he said the real death toll may not be known until the fall, noting that some death certificates may have been inadequately filled out during the height of the pandemic. .

He resisted the idea that the total number of excess deaths in Spain of around 43,000 – the number of deaths above the historical average – was a more precise guide to the balance sheet of the pandemic than the official number of deaths by coronavirus of 28388. The excess mortality in the country remains one of the highest in the world, with just over 1,000 deaths per 1 million inhabitants, just behind Ecuador.

But Dr. Simón said that all of the excessive deaths were linked to the pandemic – although not all were directly caused by Covid-19 – as the crisis may have made people unwilling or unable to go to the hospital for complaints such as heart attacks and strokes.

“Some excessive deaths may be linked to something else,” he said. “But all of them are linked to the pandemic.”

Since the general closure of Spain last month, there has been an increase of more than 80% in one of Dr. Simón’s favorite metrics – the number of diagnosed cases in which symptoms have started in the last 14 days. That figure reached 1,351 on Monday. However, the number of coronavirus cases is down from a peak of around 9,000 per day in late March.

Dr. Simón said that Spain is now detecting a higher proportion of coronavirus infections than before – around 20-30% of all cases, compared to around 10% at the height of the pandemic in the spring.

He said that in areas affected by new outbreaks, the detection rate could be up to twice as high due to large-scale testing in response to the increase in cases. He added that the majority of cases were asymptomatic, going from around 40% of new cases several weeks ago to 60-70% now.

Nearly 20,000 people out of a population of around 200,000 people have been tested in the Segrià region, he said, and around 700 have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Professor Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo, an epidemiology expert at the Autonomous University of Madrid, said that the recent increases were predictable given the end of the national foreclosure.

“The good news is that they are well and quickly checked,” he said. “What would be very serious is that if many epidemics occur at the same time, the response may take time and it may be necessary to lock many people down for weeks.”

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