Spain to be first country to treat Covid 'like the flu' amid surge of infections

Children go back to school after the Christmas break amid the Covid surge in Madrid, Spain
Children go back to school after the Christmas break amid the Covid surge in Madrid, Spain

Spain continues to grapple with an unprecedented surge of Covid infections

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Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez says that amid falling lethality rates for Covid-19, Spain wants European officials to consider whether to move away from the detailed tracking that the pandemic has required until now to a flu-like monitoring system.

The change would mean treating Covid-19 as an “endemic illness” rather than a pandemic, Mr Sanchez said, adding that deaths as a proportion of recorded cases have fallen dramatically since the initial onset of the pandemic.

“I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now,” Mr Sanchez told Cadena SER radio.

The prime minister confirmed a report from the country’s leading newspaper, El Pais, that under a new monitoring system already being drafted by Spanish health authorities every new infection would not need to be recorded and that people with symptoms would not necessarily be tested but they will continue to receive treatment.

Citing epidemiology officials, El Pais said that the plan would be for a network of carefully chosen health facilities and professionals to report, in a survey-like system similar to the one used across Europe for tracking influenza, the evolution of Covid-19 outbreaks, what technically is called “sentinel surveillance” rather than the current method of “universal surveillance”.

Health Minister Carolina Darias has discussed the proposal with some of her counterparts in the European Union, Mr Sanchez said without elaborating.

The prime minister also announced that Spain is purchasing this month 344,000 pills of a Covid-19 antiviral drug developed by the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Despite a successful vaccination rollout, Spain is grappling with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections.

Some eight million primary and secondary-level students were resuming classes on Monday after a long Christmas and New Year break.

Authorities have shortened isolation periods and softened the requirements for quarantining entire classrooms when outbreaks happen, to avoid major disruptions in schools.

It comes following the World Health Organisation confirming the number of new Covid infections in the past week jumping by about 55%, but the number of deaths remained stable.

In the weekly WHO report issued on Tuesday night, the UN health agency said there were about 15 million new Covid-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths.

Every world region reported a rise in cases except Africa, where there was an 11% drop.

Last week, the WHO noted a record of 9.5 million new infections in a single week, calling it a “tsunami” of disease.

The Omicron variant spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by other versions of the virus.

However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospital admission and death.