Catalonia will not yet advance to the second phase of the de-escalation plan. The sudden worsening of the epidemiological indicators has cut short the Government's plans for the gradual reopening of the country and has been put on hold at least for another fifteen days. Thus, after the weekly Procicat meeting, the Government of Catalonia will not allow mobility in the region next weekend, nor will it increase capacity in commerce, hotels and cultural activities as of Monday, as planned in the government's calendar.
The reason: the obvious signs of acceleration of the epidemic that have been observed just twenty days before Christmas. The rate of infection (R number), a key factor in controlling the spread of the virus, has shot up in just three days: on Monday it was around 0.78 and by Thursday it shot up to 0.92. And this is the main reason why a decision has been made to stop the easing of restrictions: in the first fortnight, the maximum threshold of 0.90 points set by the Government was exceeded. "We will analyse the data constantly, but out of responsibility, we will for the moment ease restrictions no further. Managing a new peak in this situation would be very complicated," said the Minister of Health, Alba Vergés.
"We expected a certain upturn [in the indicators] but everything has gone too fast," warned Public Health Secretary José Maria Argimon. "Numbers are still falling, but before we were doing it at a rate of 6% less cases per day, and this reduction, last Thursday, four days after the reopening, is suddenly slowing down," he explained to justify the brake on the de-escalation plan. And he has admitted: "Now new decreases are almost unnoticeable". Argimon has recognised that the reopening of the economic sectors ten days ago and the increase in social interaction that it entails are some of the factors explaining this upturn.
The fact that the infection rate is rising sharply and will continue to rise in the coming days increases the risk of growing above 1, Argimon said, which would mean "more contagion and more infection" and, at the same time, more serious cases that will impact health centers. "We know that at least 15% will need hospitalisation and, of these, 5% will require admission to ICU," the secretary said.
The increase in the R number (which calculates how many new infections can be generated on average from a single contagion) has been consolidated, but this does not mean that it automatically translates into an increase in contagion. For the time being, new cases continue to follow a trend similar to that of recent days and, for example, diagnoses in the last 14 days continue to fall, albeit slightly, and around 256 infections were detected per 100,000 inhabitants. "Opening up more and moving on to the second phase would be unwise," said Argimon, who added: "In four days we haven't had time to do anything wrong. The problem we have, and it is very difficult to understand, is mobility and social interaction".
Call to stay home over Bank Holiday weekend
And precisely for this reason, the Department of Home Affairs has called for people to stay home. The secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Isabel Abad, has insisted that mobility must be reduced in order to stop the transmission of coronavirus. Until 10 am, she said, there has been a slight increase in traffic of 3% over last week, although long-distance mobility has fallen.
The deputy director of Civil Protection, Sergio Delgado, has warned that the data prevent the restoration of normal activities and has ensured that "we cannot maintain normality" during the Bank Foliday weekend. "We have to try to adapt customs to the needs of the pandemic, with distance, masks and ventilation," he said. However, the head of the project noted that there is "very high pressure" from both the public and the town halls to return to normal activities and have parades or install ice rinks.
Abad also explained that since October 16, when the second state of alarm and curfew was decreed, the Catalan security forces have imposed 49,765 administrative complaints for non-compliance with anti-covid regulations, which is about 1,058 complaints a day. According to the number two of the Department of the Interior, 92,218 people have been identified for skipping the veto on night-time mobility between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Hospital pressure drops
The other indicator that the executive considers key to deciding whether or not to advance in de-escalation, which is the rate of new hospital admissions, is going down. In the last few hours, hospitalisations due to the virus have been reduced by 83 people and there are a total of 1,591. In addition, there have also been 11 fewer admissions to intensive care units (ICU), where there are currently 348 critically ill patients.
The decrease in hospital pressure, however, has slowed down compared to recent weeks. Between Monday and Wednesday of this week, critical patients have been reduced by only 3%, while in the same period last week admissions fell by more than 5%. However, this Thursday has added 27 more deaths, bringing to 15,994 the total number of deaths related to the virus in Catalonia.
The Health Department has informed this Wednesday that there are 1,614 new infections confirmed with a PCR test or an antigen test -246 more than yesterday-, a figure that brings to 313,859 people who have contracted the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Also EPG has continued to increase for the third day in a row: it is now at 217 points (+7 compared to yesterday). Furthermore, the cumulative incidence of the last 14 days has fallen slightly (-1.12 compared to yesterday) to 255.72 points.