Meetings of up to ten people and in which no more than two bubbles are mixed. This is the Government's approach to the Christmas holidays. What has to be decided between today and tomorrow is the role of the under-14s: whether they will be included within this limitation or whether they will not count as members of the meeting. This was explained by the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, in an interview with Radio 4 in which he noted that the relaxation of meetings of six people will apply from 21 December, but stressed that the details of the guidelines to be followed during the holidays will be announced this week. Argimon has taken it for granted that it will not be possible to avoid families meeting for Christmas, even if it is in less crowded meetings, and has asked that this be done with the "necessary care" and with the minimum number of people.
"Let's be very careful the week before having a Christmas get-together," he warned, after admitting that the images of crowds seen this weekend in some stores "worry him a lot". Above all, he said, taking into account that the December bank holiday and Christmas, which is a time of much social interaction, are around the corner: "January could be complicated".
Asked if he would set tougher criteria for the holidays, the secretary of public health said that the guidelines agreed upon would be "strict" and that what is needed is for everyone to comply with them: "Sometimes there are people who do not follow them and who cheat," he lamented.
On the role of children, he noted that despite the fact that they have been shown not to be very contagious, excluding them from the encounter limitation may give a false sense of lowering the risk and cause more crowding in flats. He considered it "a success" that schools could be reopened and function "quite normally", but assumed that during the second term the mask would still be compulsory in the classroom from the first year of primary school. A success, he said, would be for the mask not to be necessary in the third term.
As for the possible purchase of rapid tests before Christmas meals, Argimon has pointed out that they will not be available in pharmacies but that they can be purchased from laboratories and has warned that they may give a false negative or fail to detect a disease that is still incubating. "It's a bit of a false security," he said, although he noted that the false negatives appear to be from people who are not very contagious. He considered that testing in pharmacies generates aerosols and that only those with a well-prepared space could do so, which would be "a minority".
As for the evolution of the pandemic, he said he was confident that next Monday we would be able move into the second phase of the easing of restrictions, but not bring it forward to the bank holiday weekend. He has pointed out that today there will be about 8,300 cases in Catalonia and an EPG a little below 200 points, a R number of 0.8, with 460 patients in ICUs and 70 new admissions.
"Track and trace has much to improve"
The Secretary of Public Health has avoided controversy with specialists such as Oriol Mitjà and Àlex Arenas after their criticism of the Government's plan. He added that it is always good to hear different voices and that he speaks to everyone on a daily basis. Agrimon has denied that track and trace works as badly as it did during the first wave and has pointed out that about 400 more people have been recruited, despite the fact that it still "has a lot of room for improvement". "This system has to anticipate the outbreaks that will come," he said, arguing that the problem now is not one of effectiveness but of improving coordination between the different phases of traceability. He admitted that in the first wave the tracers failed "clearly", with two very complicated social outbreaks in the Segrià and Barcelona metropolitan area.
Regarding the vaccine, he said that when the time comes for the largest round of vaccinations, private health clinics may be used. However, that will not be until September or October: "The established order will not be altered, we will make sure of it", he concluded.