'We are following same Covid growth patterns as Europe,' say experts

Health minister backs implementing obligatory Covid passports instead of having to close certain industries

A woman gets vaccinated against Covid-19 in Girona (by Aleix Freixas)
A woman gets vaccinated against Covid-19 in Girona (by Aleix Freixas) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

November 15, 2021 11:31 AM

Catalonia could witness a worsening Covid situation, similar to that being seen in other European countries.

That's according to Enric Álvarez, of the BIOCOMSC research group at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), who said "everything looks as if we are repeating the European pattern," in a radio interview with Rac 1 on Sunday.

Catalonia's health minister, Josep Maria Argimon, echoed the same sentiments. "We're not an island," he told reporters, "and we've always said that if Europe is in a bad way then we too will have problems."

Álvarez also warned in another radio interview it will take another week or two before it will be possible to determine whether Catalonia is entering a sixth wave of the pandemic, this time speaking on Saturday morning with Catalunya Ràdio.

Despite some rising pandemic indicators, the health minister does not yet plan on restricting or closing certain industries but instead would favour implementing obligatory Covid passports to enter establishments, a protocol already in place for nightclubs and other events which have dance floors. 

"Before putting restrictions in place or other restrictive measures on things such as capacities or timetables, we will consider Digital Certificates," Josep Maria Argimon explained. 

The health minister also acknowledged that to do this would require permission from courts as it would imply a "loss of rights and freedoms."    

Catalonia's 14-day attack rate (IA14) – essentially the number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last two weeks – is one of the lowest in Europe, with the latest figure on November 15 being 86.84.

This compares to 145.1 in France, 403.0 in Germany, 756.3 in the United Kingdom and 1,813.0 in Slovenia, which has the highest in Europe according to figures from a BIOCOMSC report released on November 12.

However, the transmission rate in Catalonia has been rising in the past few weeks, while Covid-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions are also on an upward trend.

Transmission rate and outbreak risk

Latest figures (November 14) show a transmission rate of 1.54 and an outbreak risk of 130. The transmission rate has now been above 1 – thus indicating that the virus is spreading – since October 19, and has risen sharply in the past seven days.

Similarly, from a 15-month low of 37 on October 16, the outbreak risk is rising fast, going above the 'high' threshold of 100 on November 12 for the first time in two months.

Hospitalizations and ICU

The number of patients in Catalan hospitals with Covid-19 currently stands at 376, with 90 in intensive care units (ICU), as of November 14.

These numbers are well down on those seen during the peak of the fifth wave in Catalonia in early August, when 2292 coronavirus patients were hospitalized, with 598 in ICU.

But, the figures are undoubtedly on the rise again. The number of hospitalized patients has increased every day since November 5, when there were 312. The increase is not quite as obvious when it comes to ICU, but the current number is the highest in two weeks, and it can be expected to increase in the coming weeks.

High vaccination rate

The relatively mild impact of the pandemic in Catalonia at the moment compared to other European countries can be at least in part explained by the high rates of vaccination.

As of November 14, 2021, 6,004,880 residents have been given the first dose of the vaccine, 75.9% of the total population, and 74.6% are considered to be fully immunized.

These figures are significantly higher than the EU/EEA average, at 69.6% of people with at least a dose and 64.9% fully vaccinated, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control figures from November 15.

The same source shows that the vast majority of European countries are behind Catalonia in vaccinations, with Italy (72.4%), France (68.6%), Sweden (67.3%), Germany (67.1%) and the Netherlands (64.8%) some percentage points behind.

Other countries have significantly lower vaccination rates, including Austria (63.8%), Hungary (58.6%), Czech Republic (57.6%), Estonia (56.8%), Poland (53.1%), Croatia (45.0%), Slovakia (45.0%) and Bulgaria (23.3%).

Portugal (81.3%) is top of the rankings, and the countries with high rates of vaccinations generally tally with those facing milder growths in the pandemic currently, with Ireland (75.8%) among the few exceptions.

As of November 15, 2021, there have been 1,015,566 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Catalonia and a total of 24,049 people have died.