Once again, Spain is experiencing a record of Covid-19 infections, the work and grace of the omicron variant. And one more time, data will be turned off for four days to return on January 3, predictably, with new surprises. Right now, no expert dares to predict the peak of the sixth wave.
The last blow of the pandemic is leaving in slippers the two periods of greatest expansion of the virus, the second and third waves, with around one and a half million infections each. In just the last two weeks, more than 800,000 cases have been registered. And most estimates place the peak of infections in mid-January, so this number will only grow until then.
The decrease in the cases that South Africa has been experiencing since last December 18 has been interpreted as a peculiarity of omicron, with an initial acceleration but that quickly loses steam and goes down with the same momentum. This was pointed out, among others, by the Deputy Minister of Public Health and Healthcare of the Community of Madrid, Antonio Zapatero.
However, “it is a bad mirror for Spain”, asserts the researcher in Public Health of Fisabio Salvador Peiro. Among what differentiates us: a younger population and “30% vaccinated, but probably a lot of unregistered natural infection.” Different variants have also predominated, so that “the protection offered by natural immunity could be different.”
In fact, in the instant comparison made by the Oxford University portal Our World In Data, The United Kingdom and Denmark, the first European countries in which omicron was detected on a large scale, follow the same trail as Spain and the peak of infections is not yet in sight.
Peiró ventures to put the peak of infections around January 15, with hospitalizations reaching their highest level a week later, which is why he advocates “slowing down transmission” through “real” restrictive measures, that is, reducing social interaction.
The objective is none other than to avoid hospital collapse. Although the percentage of admissions among new cases is decreasing each week, the race against saturation of health services is not won.
Primary care (which is not taken into account to measure the evolution of the pandemic in Spain, something that many consider an error) is experiencing a nightmare December due to the monumental number of people who manifest symptoms of Covid and, therefore , you have to do a tests. Some communities, such as Madrid or Catalonia, have ended up accepting that people can report a positive for Covid with self-diagnostic tests, to lighten the weight, but it does not seem enough.
In the hospital, and despite that omicron lightness, the pressure is only increasing. There are already 22 Covid patients admitted for every 100,000 people when a week ago there were 16. ICU occupancy is around 20%, and there is a community in a particularly delicate situation, Catalonia, with 37.05% of its intensive care beds occupied by patients infected by SARS-CoV-2.
This circumstance, taking into account the flood of cases to come, makes it unthinkable to relax the current measures (if they do not have to be toughened). But some already see further. “We still have to exercise a bit of restraint, but knowing that this strain is different,” he says. Juan Abarca, doctor and president of the private hospital group HM Hospitales.
This means that, although personal protection measures such as the mask, social distance and ventilation will have to continue to be maintained, “it is clear that we are facing a time when restrictions will have to be removed.”
He does not speak of living with the virus yet, but it is a possibility that is already on the horizon. “2022 will be the year in which the virus will live with us, and unfortunately we will have to continue vaccinating, although perhaps not everyone has to do it anymore“.
He also attributes the impossibility of living with the virus shortly to not having the entire current therapeutic arsenal, such as Paxlovid, Pfizer’s oral medicine that, according to said laboratory, reduces hospitalizations and deaths from Covid in people with up to 90%. risk, as well as monoclonal antibodies such as sotrovimab, the only one that seems to maintain its efficacy against omicron.
The epidemiologist is not so optimistic Joan Caylá. “The pandemic continues, I am concerned that there are many people who think that, between vaccines and the possible lightness of omicron, this is over.”
And he refers: the measures that have been taken in Spain are “very tenuous” compared to those of other European countries that are seeing their epidemic wave diminish after applying more restrictive ones: Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands.
“Each country can decide how much Covid it wants: if we carry out tenuous measures as up to now, we will have it complicated, especially with these parties that help a lot to infections”, replies Caylá. “If we are more strict, we can minimize the problem. If not, it will increase ”.