Public health secretary Argimon in favor of loosening Covid-19 restrictions
Top hospital doctor warns that introducing exceptions for Easter similar to Christmas could lead to "critical" situation
The Catalan public health secretary, Josep Maria Argimon, is in favor of loosening some Covid-19 restrictions from next Monday.
While the decision was expected to be announced on Thursday, it will most likely be made public on Friday, as the current measures are due to end this Sunday.
In a press conference on Tuesday, the senior official said that he would "allow some breathing room where there isn’t any", referring to the sectors most affected by the restrictions, such as hospitality and retail.
Yet, Argimon made clear that he is not the person who will ultimately decide on the measures – it will instead be the civil protection crisis committee, Procicat, led by the health and interior ministers.
At the moment, bars, cafés, and restaurants can only serve customers on site between 7.30 am to 10.30 am and between 1 pm to 4.30 pm – such establishments have only been able to offer takeaway and delivery services in the evenings since December 21.
Shopping malls were only allowed to open for 24 days – coinciding with the Christmas season – from October 30. Since January 7, only essential stores have been able to open on the weekends.
The public health secretary also spoke about the end of the downwards trend in the Covid-19 data and the rise in transmission rate, saying it might come as a result of the British variant, now making up 40% of new transmissions. He played down the possibility that the February 14 election may have played a significant role in the new trend.
The health minister Alba Vergés outlined her position on Wednesday, saying that there could be some very slight easing of measures.
"We can't talk about a very pronounced reopening, but about fixing certain aspects that could, without losing our control of the epidemic, give some breathing space to sectors," she said, speaking at Hospital Clínic, at an event organized to remember that on February 25 it will be a year since the first case of Covid-19 was detected in Catalonia.
Vergés warned that "we have to move very carefully, we are in key weeks" and pointed out that the stagnation of the epidemiological situation cannot be attributed "neither to 14-F nor to any specific cause," but she did speak of the increasing incidence of the new variants.
Debate on approach for Easter holiday
Facing a rising transmission rate, on Monday Vergés said that a Covid-19 fourth wave "would be dramatic" due to pressure in hospitals already being high.
Yet, in relation to the Easter holiday, just over a month away, she refused to confirm her department’s approach. Vergés did say that they will continue to "find a balance" between managing the pandemic and permitting some degree of socializing, as they did during the summer and Christmas when curfew and mobility restrictions were temporarily loosened.
However, some experts are skeptical on any loosening for Easter.
"We cannot 'save' Easter as we did with Christmas, because we have already seen its cost," said Magda Campins, head of epidemiology and preventive medicine in Vall d'Hebron hospital, to the Catalan News Agency.
She said that given the appearance of new strains, such as the British one, any loosening could be "critical" – according to her, without the new variants and taking into account the anticipated progress in vaccinations, the situation would in a few weeks be as under control as last summer.
She has expressed her support for a “very minimal” de-escalation for economic reasons.
"If we ease measures in order to create some breathing room for the economy, transmissions will increase again, and we will face a fourth wave even more dangerous than the third one," she said.