Pedro Sánchez will convene an extraordinary monographic Council of Ministers this Thursday to recover the mandatory use of the mask outdoors. A decision demanded by several autonomous communities and that the Government has decided to approve by decree law before Christmas Eve. The presidents of Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, the Valencian Community, Galicia and the Basque Country announced that this would be one of their main requests – its use was no longer mandatory on June 26 – at the conference of presidents. The President of the Government has also defended the vaccination strategy as the most effective measure to stop the sixth wave: Sánchez has insisted on “intensifying” the coverage of the population with a third dose. As he underlined, a measure that is proving to be very effective against omicron in reducing hospital admissions. The Executive will also reinforce the autonomous vaccination teams and trackers with members of the Armed Forces. And they will make hospitals of the military health network available. Another novelty that the Council of Ministers will facilitate this Thursday the reinforcement of health human resources: the communities will be able to hire retired and early retired personnel for public and private health centers, as well as professionals with a specialist title from Member States outside the EU .
The meeting has been called in the middle of a wave of infections caused by omicron, a variant that is unleashed and which has only taken a few weeks to threaten to saturate the health system. And right at the gates of the Christmas holidays, a particularly symbolic moment of family gatherings and mass consumption. People who have had direct contact with an infected person should not quarantine if they are vaccinated with a full schedule. In addition, the Government will issue temporary authorizations to allow the sale in pharmacies of certain antigen tests for professional use so that they are available to the entire population. Within the vaccination acceleration plan, the Government has established the following objectives: 80% of the population between 60 and 69 years of age will be vaccinated with the third dose before the end of the year; 80% of the 50-59 age group in the week of January 24; 80% of those aged 40-49 in the first week of March. In addition, 70% of children between 5 and 11 years of age will have the first pediatric dose in the week of February 7. And 70% of the children should have already received the second pediatric dose in the week of April 19.
Most of the territories are reluctant to regain tough restrictions such as limited capacity and reduced business hours. At each end of the scale are Madrid, with its president Isabel Díaz Ayuso “opposed to mass closures”, and the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, in favor of implementing the curfew and closing nightlife to stop the expansion of the coronavirus.
The Government trusts that some measures can be agreed upon while appealing to prudence and tranquility. And with vaccination as the main argument: 91.8% of the target population (38.6 million Spaniards) has already been immunized. Moncloa emphasizes that the most vulnerable have also received the third booster dose: coverage that in those over 70 years is 84.2% but that among those aged 60 to 69 years falls to 61.1%. 54.5% of the two million people vaccinated with the Janssen single-dose have already received a second puncture from Pfizer or Moderna. Sánchez has assured, according to sources at the meeting, that the Ómicron variant “has a remedy with a souvenir dose” and has insisted on the third puncture as a protection measure.
As of February 1, 2022, within the covid green digital certificate, the validity period of the vaccination will be 9 months from the date of administration of the last dose. All the communities except Asturias, Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Madrid require with different intensity the covid passport for restaurants, nightlife and even hospital visits.
Sánchez presides over the telematic summit from the Senate, where he is accompanied by Isabel Rodríguez, Minister of Territorial Policy; María Jesús Montero, Minister of Finance; and Carolina Darias, Minister of Health. The summit, the 18th since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 – in total there have been 25 since its inception in 2004 – takes place just two days before Christmas Eve and in full debate on the advisability of applying certain restrictive measures to quell the spread of the disease. The day before the highest daily number of infections was registered, with 49,823 cases. Ómicron, unknown for a month and a half, has demonstrated in record time an unusual ability to be transmitted although it seems to be responsible for milder symptoms than the previous predominant variants of coronavirus. Sánchez recalled in his initial presentation, behind closed doors, that the data on those admitted to intensive care are lower than those of a year ago. At the end of last January, when the third wave reached its peak with an incidence of 900 cases, hospitalized patients had shot up to 30,789, of which 4,515 were in ICUs due to their severity.
But it is precisely that facility to expand, at an exponential rate, which has triggered the alerts since it could collapse an already stressed health system and at the limit after six waves of covid. Revenues have tripled in a month, although the government and communities assure that the situation is under control and is not comparable to that of other waves. An example: if last Friday there were 6,667 hospitalized patients, which was equivalent to a bed occupancy of 5.3%, the latest data from the Ministry of Health brings the figure to 7,634 (6.14%). In turn, those admitted to the ICU also experienced an increase, going from 1,306 (14% of places occupied in intensive care) to 1,472 (15.77%). The incidence (695.38 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) has almost quadrupled since December 1 (217).
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.