Record weekly Covid transmissions as hospitalizations spike and new measures loom

Outbreak risk and transmission rate begin to decrease but still near all-time high

A medical professional performs a PCR test on a man (by Raquel Navarro/Nerea Colomé)
A medical professional performs a PCR test on a man (by Raquel Navarro/Nerea Colomé) / ACN

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

July 12, 2021 12:26 PM

The Covid-19 pandemic remains out of control in Catalonia. New transmissions began to spike on June 28 and since then, new daily cases have averaged over 5,000, topping 8,000 on July 8 and 9.

Indeed, last week saw the most new declared transmissions in any week since the beginning of the pandemic, taking into account PCR, antigen, antibody and other tests.

According to the new daily transmissions published on the Catalan health department's and reported by Catalan News every day, week 11 of 2021, ending on July 11, saw 50,102 new cases of Covid-19.

The fifth wave, as some are already calling it, has hit a higher weekly transmission rate than the previous record, the last week of October 2020, in the middle of the second wave, with 35,252 – this counts weeks beginning on Monday, and not any seven days in a row.

The third wave peaked at 30,270 cases in a single week in mid-January 2021, with the fourth being much lighter at 12,630 in its worst week, in mid-April, two weeks after Easter.

This is just slightly more than the worst week of the first wave, with 10,667 cases between March 30 and April 5 – yet, the lower availability of tests and the health system's lack of preparation in identifying new cases compared to now also needs to be taken into account for the first wave.

Hospitalizations double but nowhere near previous waves

However, while the fifth wave has surpassed all previous records of cases, this has not been turned into similar amounts of hospitalizations.

Patients in hospital beds are spiking now, with 980 as of July 11, which means more than double than June 29 (458), when the figure began to soar.

Yet, this is nowhere near the peak of the third wave, at 3,038, and the top figure in the second, 2,793 – no figures were reported for the first, while the fourth peaked at 1,763.

Likewise, patients in ICUs are on the rise, with the number leaping from 115 to 182 in 10 days, but some way off the first wave peak (1,529) and that of the third (731). The number of available ICUs across Catalonia are now estimated to be between 900 and 1,000.

The spike in transmissions has led to other indicators also shooting up, such as the outbreak risk, at 1,590 as of July 11.

It is considered to be low at 30, moderate at 70, high at 100 and very high at 200. It is calculated using an iEPG index - found by multiplying the average spread of the virus over the past seven days by the cumulative incidence over the past two weeks.

Only one month ago, it stood below the 'high risk' level for the first time in 11 months, but this quickly vanished. Yet, the indicator seems to already be decreasing, with the top number of this wave being 1,828 on Friday, also the all-time high.

The transmission rate, the number of people each positive case is transmitting the virus to, is also very high, at 1.93, but is also beginning to fall. On July 6, it stood at 3.39, meaning that every 100 new positives were transmitting the virus to 339 new people, a rate only surpassed during the first wave.

Vaccinations prompt lower levels of serious patients

Vaccinations have prompted a lower increase of serious patients, with not only significantly less patients in hospitals than in other waves, but a very small amount of fatalities. 

While more than 50 people passing away due to Covid-19 in Catalonia every day was normal during the second and third waves (over 100 in the first one), the number of deaths reported has not been over 5 on any day since June 2. 

As of July 11, 2021, 4,578,895 residents have been given the first dose of the vaccine, 58.3% of the total population. Out of those, 3,295,088 have also been administered a second dose (42% of the total population). 3,665,661 residents are considered to be fully immunized (46.7%).

New Covid restrictions looming

As a result of the new wave of cases, Catalonia will be implementing further Covid-19 restrictions in the coming days.

The measures, which will be announced on Monday or Tuesday, are necessary given the "explosion" in cases, says president Pere Aragonès.

Speaking from Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, where he and health minister Josep Maria Argimon met with Bellvitge hospital medical professionals, the Catalan president warned that society is "going through difficult times."

A mere two weeks after reopening following a 15-month pandemic-related closure, nightclubs and late-night bars already had to put a significant part of their activity on hold from July 9 for at least 15 days. Indoor seating areas remain closed again now, while outdoor seating areas, on the other hand, are still allowed to be open to the public until 3 am. 

Other measures remain eased, such as the removal of the face mask mandate at all times outdoors, and restaurant hours, now open until 1 am.

The curfew was lifted on May 9, while the cap on gatherings was lifted on June 21.