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COVID-19 STATS

‘Stealth’ Omicron cases rise in Spain: What you should know

As Spain emerges from its sixth coronavirus wave, one of the main concerns among health authorities is the rise in cases of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant in the country. But is there reason to be worried and could it affect the easing of the last Covid restrictions in the coming months?

‘Stealth’ Omicron cases rise in Spain: What you should know
The original BA.1 subvariant does continue to be dominant accounting for between 79 and 98 percent of cases across the country. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

After weeks of record infections over the Christmas period and January, the incidence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been dropping considerably throughout February. 

Despite 82 percent of the population being fully vaccinated and half having had a booster shot, Omicron has resulted in 12,000+ deaths in Spain, more than the fifth and fourth coronavirus waves given the sheer number of infections over the past months.

In fact, there have been more than five million cases during Spain’s sixth wave, which equals more than all infections recorded during all other previous waves.

Fortunately, the pandemic is gradually improving and the Spanish government does want to work towards treating Covid-19 as an endemic disease, as in the case of seasonal influenza.

Will there be a seventh wave? Opinions vary among health experts in Spain but there is growing concern by the World Health Organisation that the next stage of the global pandemic will have the Omicron subvariant BA.2 at the centre of it. 

It’s been unofficially referred to as the ‘Stealth’ Covid variant or ‘Stealth Omicron’ given that it’s not as easily detectable with standard testing and is reported to be more transmissible than the original dominant BA.1 Omicron variant.

So far it has been detected in at least 74 countries worldwide and it’s become the dominant subvariant in restrictions-free Denmark as well China, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, and the US looks to be on the same track.

Will ‘Stealth’ Omicron cause problems in Spain?

According to the latest Health Ministry update of Spain’s Covid-19 variants and epidemiological situation on February 21st, sequencing carried out in ten regions has shown that BA.2 cases doubled, tripled or quadrupled in these territories from February 14th to 20th. 

The original BA.1 subvariant does continue to be dominant, accounting for between 79 and 98 percent of cases across the country.

This however may not paint a clear picture of just how much the subvariant is spreading across Spain given the low rate of sequencing carried out at Spanish laboratories: six percent of tested cases, below the 10 percent recommended by the European Commission.

Spain is following the global trend in rising ‘Stealth’ Omicron cases, with the latest data seeing the World Health Organisation urge countries to keep a close eye on this subvariant.

Scientific studies have so far shown that the BA.2 is 40 percent more transmissible than BA.1, but that the difference isn’t as great as between the Omicron variant as a whole and Delta.

When it comes to how capable ‘Stealth’ Omicron is of causing serious illness or death, the scientific results are more mixed.

New lab testing from Japan shows that BA.2 may have features that make it as severe as previous variants of Covid, including Delta.

But on the other hand hospitalisations are falling in countries where BA.2 is growing such as South Africa or the UK, but more people are being hospitalised in Denmark where the subvariant is dominant.

Other questions remain, including the risk of reinfection with BA.2 compared to BA.1

The most common reported symptoms of the ‘Stealth’ subvariant are the same as for the original Omicron subvariant: high temperature, cough, nasal congestion, headache and sore throat. 

What could all this mean in practice for the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions in Spain? 

Spanish health experts are divided over whether there will be a seventh wave, but the possibility of a “more aggressive variant” is one of the reasons given for there being another spike in Covid cases. 

READ ALSO: Will there be a seventh coronavirus wave in Spain?

At present not enough is known about ‘Stealth’ Omicron for it to be clear to Spanish health authorities whether it should affect its plan to lift the remaining Covid restrictions in the coming months. It seems likely that only a drastic rise in Covid hospitalisations and deaths caused by the subvariant could force them to change their stance. 

This pandemic has surprised us before, and no doubt has the power to do so again. 

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COVID-19 STATS

Nine under-the-radar Covid news stories from Spain you may have missed 

Here is some of the more underreported coronavirus news in Spain in February, from vaccine side-effects, to new Covid-fighting treatments being developed and other interesting information flying under the radar.

Nine under-the-radar Covid news stories from Spain you may have missed 

You may have heard that face masks outdoors will soon no longer be mandatory in Spain and that the country’s infection rate has dropped below 2,000 cases per 100,000 cases for first time since December, but there is plenty of other insightful Covid news from Spain which we’ll offer you in bite-sized sections below. 

Pace of child vaccination campaign slows down 

Despite a promising start to the Covid-19 inoculations for children aged 5 to 11 in Spain which began in mid-December, in recent weeks the rate of children getting vaccinated has slowed down considerably. 

Pedro Sánchez’s government had set itself the target of having vaccinated 70 percent of children in this age group by this week, but this target now seems out of reach with 55 percent of 5 to 11 year olds with one dose.

130 people die from Covid-19 in Spain every day

Covid-19 vaccines have helped reduce deaths and serious cases drastically, although the ongoing high incidence under the Omicron variant has ensured that daily deaths remain high. Over the weekend, 335 more deaths were reported, taking the total to more than 94,500 since the pandemic began.  

Sunday 13th will mark two years since the first Covid death in Spain, and since then the average daily number of deaths in Spain is 130. 

For comparison’s sake, the number of flu deaths in Spain in 2019 – which was higher than almost all previous years – was 15,000, around 41 a day. 

Two new vaccines on the way, one of them Spanish 

Hipra is the first Spanish vaccine against the coronavirus to enter the final trial phase, and the pharmaceutical company it gets its name from defends that clinical tests show better results against the Omicron variant in booster doses than the Pfizer vaccine.

Then there’s Novavax, developed in the US and authorised by the EU in late December, which is also scheduled to be offered as a booster shot to people in Spain during this first semester of 2022.

Covid chewing gum, anyone?

A group of Spanish researchers have developed a chewing gum that they claim helps stop the spread of coronavirus and other viruses through the mouth.

Their chewing gum releases high initial concentrations of acids that cause a sudden drop in PH in the mouth, acting in a similar way to a face mask or hydraulic gel in creating a barrier from infection.

You can expect to see it in chemists in Spain in February and March, although there is no national scientific study yet which confirms its efficacy. 

A new test to determine if you need to get a booster shot

An immunologist and an allergist from the University Hospital of the Canary Islands have created a test which is capable of determining the state of our cellular immunity.

The aim of the test is to establish whether or not we really need a new booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a certain time. It is similar to other dermal tests for infections such as tuberculosis.

This test, which is yet to hit the market, could save time and money and can be especially useful in certain populations such as transplant and cancer patients. 

First person to sue for Covid vaccine side-effects 

A 62-year-old woman from Cádiz is the first person in Spain to file a legal complaint against Spain’s health system after suffering health problems following her first AstraZeneca vaccine back in April 2021. 

Since then, she has reportedly suffered from headaches, blurred vision, bleeding, blood clots and a heart attack. Her lawyer claims there was no valid consent to be vaccinated on her part due to the absence of information given to her about possible side effects and alternative vaccines.

Spain stopped receiving AstraZeneca vaccines last July after around 20 cases of blood clots of the roughly million people vaccinated with the Anglo-Swedish inoculation. 

 

Spain has donated 50 million vaccine does, but half of them haven’t been delivered

Through the Covax vaccination sharing mechanism, Spain has managed to donate 50 million vaccines, 22 million of which are destined for Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. The majority of these vaccines are AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna doses.

But as of January 21st, only 26 million have reached their destination. Distribution problems, a lack of syringe supplies and safety measures as well as the complex multi-step process involved in donating have been given as reasons for these delays. 

Almost a million unused Covid doses expired in 2021

Unfortunately, more than 934,000 doses, mainly AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, were not put to good use and expired before they could be administered, the Spanish government recently admitted. 

Spain to stop reporting on myocarditis from Covid-19 vaccines 

The Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (Aemps), the body responsible for keeping track of the possible side-effects experienced after Covid-19 vaccination, has stopped publishing details on new cases of myocarditis and pericarditis after inoculation.

So far, such data has been published on a monthly basis, but not in the latest report, with Aemps justifying the decision by saying that this is their MO for all identified adverse reactions from other medical treatments.  

“Aemps continues to count the cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, but since it is an adverse reaction already known and with an established incidence , the cases are not included in the public report”, the medical body wrote.

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