Italian woman living in Barcelona is Catalonia’s first coronavirus case

The patient was admitted into Hospital Clínic and up to twenty-five people she was in contact with after returning from Italy have been put on lockdown

Hospital Clínic. / SARA CABARROCAS

The Spanish authorities have indicated that the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Catalonia (and the Iberian Peninsula) is a 36-year-old Italian woman who lives in Barcelona city and was admitted into Hospital Clínic following medical protocol. During an emergency press conference held at Catalonia’s health ministry, Dr Joan Guix —the deputy minister for public health— explained that the patient had travelled to Italy from February 12 to 22 and was admitted into hospital on Monday evening. Hers is the fourth recorded case in Spain, and shortly afterwards a fifth patient was diagnosed: according to an official source in Madrid, it is the wife of the Italian holidaymaker who had recently tested positive in Tenerife.

The twenty-five people that the Italian patient had been in contact with will remain in lockdown “at home” for fourteen days and they will be seen by a doctor two or three times a day to determine whether they present any symptoms. This is the protocol that applies to people who have been in close, daily contact with a patient, as the virus is transmitted via human saliva. Additional contacts might be put on lockdown in the coming days. Dr Guix also explained that the Italian regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna have joined the epidemiological protocol, together with Iran, Singapore and South Korea. This means that any patients from these regions who present mild or severe symptoms will be investigated (until now only severe cases were), as well as anyone who has been in close contact on daily basis with a confirmed case. The diagnostic test, known as PCR, will only be administered to symptomatic individuals from the cases being investigated and their contacts.

Dr Guix explained that “until this morning we have tested eleven people, none of whom are infected. At the moment we are investigating a number of additional cases”. He later admitted that a further eight possible cases are being monitored. Only those that test positive will be reported.

Dr Guix emphasised the need to reassure the population and he stressed that 80 per cent of all declared cases are mild and only 2 per cent are fatal. He also remarked that “these measures aim to stop a new virus” and “seek to contain its spread”, even if “ideally we’d like to eradicate it”. He went on to state that he remains more concerned about the regular flu, which is “more serious” than the coronavirus, as proven by the 434 cases recorded this winter in Catalonia, including 41 fatalities.

On the subject of the measures that should be taken, Dr Guix explained that “it is perfectly alright to leave the house” and he claimed that using a respirator mask is unnecessary for now. In order to stop the virus’ spread, he advised sneezing or coughing into your elbow, not your hand, as well as using single-use disposable tissues. The ministry has not issued any advice on flying to northern Italy: “it’s up to everyone to decide whether they should or shouldn’t travel to a specific location”.

Even though the Catalan health authorities had announced a press conference to inform about the situation, it was the Spanish government that officially confirmed the case in the afternoon, shortly before the start of the presser. A source from Hospital Clínic stated that “dealing with a case like this does not alter the hospital’s day-to-day business”.

The case that has just been recorded in Catalonia is the first ever in the entire Iberian Peninsula. Until now there had been two cases in the Canary Islands plus one in Majorca. The latest case was confirmed once the press conference was underway in Barcelona: it is the wife of the Italian doctor who tested positive on Monday while holidaying in the south of Tenerife. The woman was tested by the microbiology lab of the University Hospital of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria.

The coronavirus is airborne and transmitted via tiny respiratory droplets as well as close contact with a carrier’s secretions, according to Catalonia’s Public Health Agency. The disease’s incubation period lasts between 2 and 14 days, hence the need to declare a 14-day quarantine. The symptoms include coughing, a sore throat, a temperature and shortness of breath. Anyone who presents such symptoms is advised to contact the health service or call 061.

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