2255 new infections: Has Spain’s second wave already started?

Together with Italy, Spain had taken the most stringent measures in March and April this year to contain the corona pandemic. After the first easing from May onwards, the situation on the Iberian Peninsula had initially eased. But for two weeks now, the number of new infections has been rising rapidly. The situation in Aragón and Catalonia is “worrying”, said the Spanish Ministry of Health a week ago. Is this already the second wave in Spain?

“Remember, it’s in your hands too, so it won’t happen again.” City of Zaragoza campaign poster on the impact of the pandemic in Spain
Christoph Pleininger/Alerta

Sira Repollés is a health advisor to the Diputacion General de Aragón (DGA). A few days ago, she expressed her optimism at the now daily press conference – despite increasing numbers of infections. Repollés appealed to the population’s sense of responsibility when she announced that a large part of Aragón was to be downgraded to a “flexible phase 2” of the government’s de-escalation plan. No unnecessary travel should be undertaken and social contacts should be voluntarily reduced. Then, according to Repollés, no more stringent measures will be necessary.

“The call to responsibility has not had the expected effect. It has not been heeded”, the health adviser now says in an interview with the daily Heraldo de Aragón. The reaction was to return to a normal Phase 2 in the region, which has mainly affected the hotel and restaurant industry.

Prevent a state of emergency

The word “confinamiento”, i.e. the total curfew, is deliberately avoided. Aragon’s President Javier Lambán (PSOE) is ruling out a compulsory curfew for his region. There should be no restriction on freedom of travel, although, or perhaps because, Spain is currently on holiday and many people are leaving the cities for the beach or the village.

Furthermore, an Estado de Alarma is necessary for the issuing of a curfew, which only the Spanish central government can arrange. In order to prevent a second wave, the Spanish Government does not rule out the possibility of declaring the Estado de Alarma in particularly badly affected regions. But as long as there are enough beds in the hospitals, such drastic measures are to be refrained from.

Due to the sharp rise in new infections, however, the hospitals can quickly reach full capacity. The hospital in Barbastro (province of Huesca/Aragon), for example, can no longer accept COVID patients, as 27 beds are already occupied with them. In the capital Zaragoza, nursing staff are already being asked to voluntarily not take their registered holidays in the coming weeks.

Worst figures since the beginning of the relaxation

Preparations are being made for a second wave in Spain, as the current figures are extremely worrying: 2255 new infections were announced yesterday. Of these, 922 were measured on Thursday alone – the worst figure since the start of the easing in May. Catalonia is particularly affected: In its own count, there were already 1003 newly infected people.1Since April, Catalonia has had its own way of counting new infections, which also includes “probable cases” without tests in the statistics. This explains the often strong divergence between the results from Spain and Catalonia. Since yesterday, France advises its citizens not to travel to Catalonia. Meanwhile, there are about 300 areas in Spain where the number of infected persons is increasing.

The beginning of the possible second wave is first to be decreed in the villages around the Catalan city of Lleida. Especially teenagers and young adults have contributed to the increase in infection. Moreover, they often show no symptoms. Due to the partly re-opened discotheques and so-called botellones2The young people meet in droves to consume alcohol together in public places the virus could apparently spread quickly.

At the beginning of July, the Catalan President Quim Torra ordered the quarantine of the approximately 200,000 people in the area around Lleida. Only the way to work was allowed. This decision led to a brief confrontation with the Spanish state: a judge decided that Torra did not have the authority to order a regional quarantine. Nevertheless, the president ordered it by decree.

After the numbers had risen at the beginning of July, the first regions, including Catalonia and Aragon, decided to make wearing a face mask compulsary. The region of Madrid, once the worst affected by the pandemic in Spain, does not want to introduce compulsory masks for the time being, although wearing a mask is still compulsory if the safety distance of two metres cannot be maintained in public. In closed rooms such as shops or offices, masks are also compulsory throughout Spain.

From the country to the city

Meanwhile, the situation in Lleida has stabilised, but Catalonia still counts around a thousand new infections per day. Now, specially the capital Barcelona is affected, in which, according to the observations, at the beginning, the mask obligation was less observed. But specially the bars and restaurants now also feel the renewed tightening of the regulations: the number of the allowed guests in the buildings and on the terraces was reduced again.

Also in Barcelona, nobody wants to carelessly use the word “confinamiento”. Mayor Ada Colau (En Comú Podem) spoke a few days ago about the fact that they are not planning a total ban on going out at the moment. Rather, she said that small steps backwards would prevent the virus from spreading. However, Colau did not rule out the possibility that the city might be sealed off.

Catalonia, along with the region of Madrid, has so far been most affected by the pandemic. According to its own information, there have been about 87,000 infected and 12,674 deaths. A quarter of them died in nursing homes.

All quiet in the South

While in Aragón and Catalonia, the first steps backwards have been initiated, the situation in Andalusia is relaxed. Here, too, the Junta had already decided last week to introduce a comprehensive mask obligation, which has been in force since 15 July. According to observations, the new regulation seems to be accepted there – despite temperatures above 40 degrees.

Nonetheless, there is still no reason for optimism in the south of Spain. The current situation is largely favoured by the fact that the high summer in this part of Spain traditionally tends to be rather quiet. In addition, many catering establishments have not been able to escape the first wave of corona. In Seville alone, more than 500 bars had to close. Last weekend’s figures also show that there is a further sharp rise in the number of infected people, particularly in the provinces of Córdoba, Granada and Almería.

The situation in Andalusia has so far been relaxed
Malte Schrüfer/Alerta

In Córdoba, for example, the graduation ceremony of a private school was dissolved, which is said to have led to more than 100 new infections. Another serious problem is unofficial farm work. Especially in the province of Almería, the partly illegal immigrants have been abused for years as cheap day labourers by the farmers living there. This does not seem to change even in times of Covid. In the easternmost province of Andalusia, 334 new infections were counted in the past 14 days.

October becomes interesting, as it is considered to be the main travel season. Most of the times, the temperatures fall again to approximately 30 degrees and specially the cultural tourism in the big cities Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada reaches then its peak. It remains to be seen if this will be as strong this year and if the cultural sites can open at all.