Madrid: Spain has become the first country in western Europe to register 500,000 coronavirus infections, after a second surge in cases that coincided with schools reopening.
Health Ministry data showed a total of 525,549 cases on Monday, up from 498,989 on Friday, and 2440 infections registered in the last 24 hours. Spain updates its data retroactively, so the latest numbers could be revised.
Recent infections have been more common among younger people who often develop no symptoms thanks to their stronger immune systems, and the death rate remains far below the March-April peak when daily fatalities routinely exceeded 800.
Despite the unwanted milestone, unlike then, hospitals have enough beds to treat COVID-19 patients.
After a first wave in spring that ravaged Spain’s elderly population and overwhelmed the hospital system, authorities brought the outbreak under control with the help of one of the world’s toughest lockdowns.
But as restrictions on movement were lifted and mass testing began in late June, infections rose from a few hundred a day to a new peak of more than 10,000 around 10 days ago, outstripping other hard-hit nations such as France, Britain and Italy.
The overall mortality rate since the pandemic first struck is around 6 per cent in Spain, lower than in Italy, Britain and France. Spain reported eight new deaths on Monday, bringing the total to 29,516.
Rafael Bengoa, co-founder of Spain’s Institute for Health and Strategy, said hospitals should be able to keep fatalities in check this time even as infections increase, but longer term problems could overburden the healthcare system.
“Many people will be infected, and some of these people, while they won’t die, will suffer an immediate and severe impact on their health that will likely be long-lasting,” he said.
While discounting the need for a new nationwide lockdown, he said localised confinements of city neighbourhoods could become increasingly useful to control transmission.
Some Spaniards think current restrictions are insufficient.
“They aren’t taking adequate measures. Look, people are walking around without face masks, the government is opening schools and that is not fair to children or to adults,” said Madrid resident Lux Marin, 25.
Schools reopened in six regions including the Basque Country on Monday and others will resume classes over the next 10 days.
“We demand a safe, face-to-face return to class and more resources to guarantee public education and make our schools safe,” said student union leader Coral Latorre, who took part in a rally by teachers and students in Madrid on Saturday.
While some commentators blame the abundance of cases on Spain’s highly social culture and propensity for large family gatherings, Joan Ramon Villalbi of the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration is wary of invoking such stereotypes.
Instead he blames a rushed exit from lockdown, which allowed people to start moving around the country before virus tracking could start in earnest, varying health rules in Spain’s regions, a high population density and reliance on low-wage workers.
“For these vulnerable workers, whether in agriculture, domestic service or in restaurants, you can tell them to stay at home for two weeks but it’s not clear they can afford that.”
On the positive side, he said restrictive measures in some regions such as Aragon appear to have stymied the resurgence of the virus there in the past few weeks.
China’s vaccine candidate appears safe, slightly weaker in elderly
Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd said on Monday its coronavirus vaccine candidate appeared to be safe for older people, according to preliminary results from an early to mid-stage trial, while the immune responses triggered by the vaccine were slightly weaker than younger adults.
Health officials have been concerned about whether experimental vaccines could safely protect the elderly, whose immune systems usually react less robustly to vaccines, against the virus that has led to nearly 890,000 deaths worldwide.
Sinovac’s candidate CoronaVac did not cause severe side effects in a combined Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials launched in May involving 421 participants aged at least 60, Liu Peicheng, Sinovac’s media representative, said. The complete results have not been published and were not made available to Reuters.
Four of the world’s eight vaccines that are in the third phase of trials are from China.
For three groups of participants who respectively took two shots of low, medium and high-dose CoronaVac, more than 90 per cent of them experienced significant increase in antibody levels, while the levels were slightly lower than those seen in younger subjects but in line with expectation, Liu said in a statement.
CoronaVac, being tested in Brazil and Indonesia in the final-stage human trials to evaluate whether it is effective and safe enough to obtain regulatory approvals for mass use, has already been given to tens of thousands of people, including about 90 per cent of Sinovac employees and their families, as part of China’s emergency inoculation scheme to protect people facing high infection risk.
French Open allowing spectators amid virus resurgence
Spectators will be allowed at the French Open this month despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country, organisers said on Monday.
Organisers unveiled the health protocols for the clay-court grand slam, which will take place at Roland Garros in western Paris from September 27 after being postponed from its May start due to the pandemic.
“Since the international circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience,” French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.
In accordance with the latest government guidelines capping attendance to 5000 people in regions such as Paris, the federation has scaled down its plans.
The federation wanted to welcome 50 per cent to 60 per cent of capacity, the equivalent of about 20,000 fans per day. Instead, Roland Garros will be divided into three zones based on the three main courts, with 5000 people each for the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts. The zone surrounding the third biggest court will host a maximum of 1500 spectators a day.
Wearing a mask on site will be mandatory, while all accredited people at the tournament will have to pass virus tests to be admitted in the Roland Garros bubble.
Greece reports cases in Moria migrant camp
Greece has registered at least nine cases of coronavirus in the overcrowded migrant camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos so far, a migration ministry official said on Monday.
Last week, the facility was placed under quarantine after authorities confirmed that a 40-year-old asylum-seeker had tested positive for coronavirus.
“So far, there are nine cases in the camp in Moria. The number might increase,” the ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Since March 1, all migrants reaching Lesbos have been quarantined away from the island’s camps.
The Moria facility, which hosts more than 12,000 people – more than four times its stated capacity – has been frequently criticised by aid groups for poor living conditions.
Most recently, aid groups have warned that social distancing and basic hygiene measures are impossible to implement in the camp due to the conditions.
Greece has recently seen a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded 11,524 cases since its first infection surfaced in February, and 284 COVID-related deaths.
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