Health department to extend all restrictions for a further 15 days

The government fears a "risky" de-escalation that could accelerate the third wave

The Department of Health will propose this week that all the restrictions that are currently in force against covid-19 remain in place for a further 15 days to continue reducing the epidemiological indicators. The Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, has assured this Monday that all across Catalonia the propagation of the virus is very slowly decreasing, "thanks to everyone's effort. However, the most complicated phase lies ahead: consolidating the downward trend. "We cannot rush things and we need more time so that the restriction's effects continue".

Senior Health Official Marc Ramentol had already advanced in the morning in an interview with RAC1 that an extension to the restrictions was on the table. "All the measures we have taken are having an impact. The contagion is going down, at a very slow pace but it's going down. The epidemic is getting smaller at a slower rate than we would like, but this is a consequence of the measures taken," he said.

Vergés insisted that throughout this week there will be meetings at different levels of government with technicians and experts "to polish" all the details. "Advancing de-escalation scenarios when we have not yet reached the peak of healthcare pressure seems to me to be risky," added Ramentol. Despite the pending conversations, everything suggests that Procicat, where different areas of the Government of Catalonia are represented and which is beind lead by the Health and Interior departments, will end up paying heed to the department's proposal.

Healthcare peak at the end of this week

The health authorities predict that the epidemiological situation will have improved after a fortnight under the current restrictions, but they have sent a clear message: the winter months will be complicated. Vergés, in fact, has admitted that the possibility of a third wave "is very high". Despite the fact that this Monday the number of new infections per day (+2,298) has fallen compared to recent weeks and the infection rate (R), a key indicator that measures the rate of new infections, remains below 1 (0.92) but stagnant, hospitalisations are still rising: public and private hospitals have 2,793 covid patients combined, 578 of which are in intensive care. In the last few hours there have been 35 more deaths.

"We continue to grow in admissions, but we believe that by the end of this week we could reach the peak of care, despite the very high figures for hospitals and primary care," warned Vergés. The pressure of care is increasing day by day but in a less accelerated way. The coordinator of the coronavirus monitoring unit, Jacobo Mendioroz, explained that now we are seeing a drop in the figures because the epidemiological curve has "a direct relationship" with the behaviour of the population and, therefore, with the restrictions on social interaction and mobility.

"The trend is downward but we still have many infections, about 4,000," said the epidemiologist, who recalled that Catalonia went from 1,000 cases in early October to 6,000 in four weeks, before the measures took effect. With the arrival of winter, either because of a certain seasonality of respiratory viruses or because people spend more time indoors, the expert has pointed out that the virus is behaving more aggressively in terms of contagion and admissions.

Care homes, in the spotlight

Right now the circulation of the virus is already having an impact on care homes, one of the most vulnerable spaces and one of the scenarios that health authorities fear the most due to the aggressiveness with which it spreads. According to the Health Department, 2.1% of elderly people living in geriatric homes are positive, 168 are in hospital or in acute care beds and a hundred are in the ICU.

Also, 7% of the nursing home staff are affected by the virus - a situation that can leave the centres without sufficient hands to care for and protect the elderly - and the Health Department has noted that this lack of workers has forced the intervention of seven geriatric homes. In total, explained Vergés, 642 transfers have been made in 37 homes to allow for the secotorisation of the facilities.

A third "overlapping" wave?

Ramentol said that Catalonia has already "surpassed the peak of contagion of this second wave" but he was convinced that, once the second wave is behind, another will come. What remains to be known, he said, is when. "The de-escalation in terms of contagion is taking place very slowly. If we de-escalate quickly now, it could be that the second and third waves will overlap, and this would be the worst scenario for healthcare," Ramentol explained.

Ramentol has stated that we must ease the pressure on healthcare to be able to face the third wave, "which will come during the winter". Ramentol also said that the department would look at the way Christmas would be celebrated in the coming days. "These are celebrations that we all need, but between all of us we have to see how we do it. Nobody wants Santa to bring us a new outbreak of the epidemic," he said. And he stressed that the epidemic does not "understand truces" and that Christmas will come on December 25, as always, but will have to be celebrated in a different way to ensure security measures and prevention. "Depending on the epidemiological situation we have at the beginning of December we will see what we can do," he concluded.

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