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Covid infections in Spain stagnate at low risk level


Since the COVID infections began to fall, at the end of July, epidemiologists have been aware of the moment when they would rise again. None assumed that the decline would be continuous until eradication of the disease, something ruled out in the near future. There had to come a time when the infections stabilized, or even began to rebound. And that is what has already happened. This Thursday the Accumulated Incidence (AI) has marked 43, 2 diagnoses for 100. 000 inhabitants in 14 days, 2.7 more than its ground after the fifth wave (40, 5), which was registered last Thursday. In the week since then the curve has been experiencing very slight ups and downs, but it is clear that the downward trend has stopped for the moment.

Is it worrying? The experts consulted answer that, a priori, not much. The risk continues to be low and “was within the foreseeable”, assures Ana María García, professor in Public Health at the University of Valencia. “Obviously the virus continues to circulate and now, with practically no restrictions, it is normal for it to grow a little. But it is a slight rise that has no repercussions in terms of the severity of the cases ”, he adds.

The growth in incidence compared to a week ago occurs, slightly, in all age ranges from 20 years. Among the youngest, it has not risen. Those who accumulate the most cases per inhabitant (an AI of 54) are children under 12 years, the only age group that is not vaccinated; but the rise that is seen in other bands in recent days has not reached them, which seems to confirm something that was already seen last year: classes are not places where the virus spreads to homes, but more quite the contrary. The transmission in society is then reflected in the classrooms.

Predictions in the pandemic have often been unsuccessful and experts prefer to be cautious. No one knows for sure how the contagion curve will evolve. And, beyond the fact that international comparisons have always been problematic due to the many singularities of each territory, there are few mirrors in which to look: Spain is today one of the countries in the world that combines a lower incidence with higher vaccination rates (the 80% of the population has received the complete guideline).

Countries such as the United Kingdom has triggered diagnoses (an AI of 434, according to data from the Ministry of Health), but the percentage of people inoculated is very lower (66, 5%, according to the Our World in Data website). Denmark, with a vaccination rate more similar to that of Spain (75, 6%), continued until a month a contagion curve traced to the Spanish one, and it began to grow slightly two weeks ago. That of Portugal (86, 4% of vaccinated), somewhat higher but parallel in recent times, also draws a slight rebound in recent days.

What seems to be ruled out is a steep rise and a new wave similar to the previous ones. “It may continue to rise, but we do not expect it to be rapid growth or impact on the healthcare system. Now two things are of concern: unvaccinated people (a 10% of the population over 12 years) and that the protection from punctures falls, something that we are not seeing ”, explains García.

The hospital situation continues to improve. This Thursday there were 1. 775 entered in Spain, of which 434 were in intensive care units. These are two figures that have been falling practically uninterruptedly since the beginning of August, when there were more than 10. 000 patients on the ward and more than 2. 000 in ICUs. Deaths also fall. This statistic does not consolidate until after about three weeks, but the downward trend is also clear since the end of August. This Thursday 20 deaths have been reported.

Un grupo de turistas en Barcelona a mediados del mes de septiembre.
A group of tourists in Barcelona in the middle of September. CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo, Professor of Public Health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, explains that certain precautions must be maintained to be at gates of the winter season. “The covid will be mixed with the flu and other respiratory viruses and we will have to see what happens. If we were in May with these figures I would speak of total tranquility. But since it is October, it is good to maintain the precautionary principle and measures such as masks indoors ”, he points out.

Face masks are practically the only measure that remains in force outside of schools. It is for this reason that experts see this small increase in cases as normal. José Jiménez, a researcher on emerging viruses at King’s College London, argues that although there is data that indicates that current vaccines limit the transmission of the virus and infections, the truth is that they do not prevent the possibility of becoming infected. “Therefore, if the measures are relaxed, it is normal for infections to rise. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the main goal of these vaccines is to prevent serious forms of the disease and death. In Spain, where a large part of the population is fully vaccinated, I see it more necessary to focus our attention on the number of hospital admissions and deaths and not so much on the accumulated incidence ”, he adds.

All those consulted , including Jiménez, insist that the virus will not disappear: it will continue to circulate. “The good news is that vaccines have completely changed the scene compared to previous waves. Therefore, and as we are currently observing, although the virus continues to circulate, the probability of becoming seriously ill and dying from covid – 19 is going to be much smaller. This does not mean that we have to completely forget about the virus. If we should have learned something already during this pandemic, it is that the virus can always surprise us ”, the researcher clarifies.

José María Martín Moreno, doctor in Epidemiology and Public Health from the University, has an impact on this. from Harvard: “We are at levels that are identified with a low risk of transmission, and consequently of care pressure. But, although this situation opens up optimistic expectations, we must insist that this does not mean that the risk is zero or zero. As the virus is present and still circulating in many countries, the potential to mutate is still there. And if it mutates in the undesirable way, new, more contagious, threatening variants may appear that escape the defense potential of the vaccines we have used. ”

To illustrate the fact that it is advisable to avoid triumphalism, he continues Martín Moreno, it is not only necessary to recall the experience of last year when it was said that the pandemic had been defeated in Spain; there are examples of other developed and relatively nearby countries that with “foolishly optimistic” announcements relaxed the restrictions “prematurely”. “This is the case of the United Kingdom and its freedom day , which has led to a cumulative incidence today some 20 times greater than we have in Spain, with a stagnant vaccination process and under a situation of enormous healthcare pressure and confusion in the population ”, ditch.

What keeps this small upturn in cases away is the following milestone, that already looked close: that of 25 cases by 100. 000 inhabitants, something that only two communities have reached (Galicia and Asturias) and that symbolically marks the “new normal”, according to what is known as the Health Traffic Light. Artalejo sees “technically possible” reaching these figures, but “very complicated” as long as children under 12 years. For them (between 5 and 12) Pfizer has a drug prepared, to which the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and, subsequently, the Vaccine Report, the group of experts that advises the ministry and the communities and that is updating the plan, will have to give its approval. of inoculations as scientific evidence advances.