Spain is still immersed in a different wave of coronavirus. On the one hand, the infections continue to explode and are the cause for concern; on the other, evidence is mounting that omicron causes less serious disease, especially in immunized people.
Those two forces in tension are what will decide the toughness of the current outbreak. Although each infection now translates into fewer hospitalizations, the multiplication of infections can skyrocket admissions, make thousands sick, and once again stress our entire healthcare system. Avoiding that depends on at least one piece of good news coming true, both possible but not confirmed: that omicron is much lighter than delta, or that it causes short waves and cases decline soon.
At the moment, the available data register a number of infections at historical highs. In the last seven days, more cases have been counted than ever before in the pandemic, 60% more than in the worst of January 2021. The rate at which the positives are growing shows no signs of slowing down and that speed is the main reason to stay alert. As long as the infections continue, omicron will be a potential threat for now.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise. How many? The graph puts the curves in relation to the very hard wave of January 2021 (which brought tens of thousands of admissions and 18,000 deaths). The current figures are far from the worst of those weeks, but they are growing and are by no means negligible: daily plant revenues are already 39% of their peak at that time. And the numbers of entries in ICUs are worse, which are close to half of that peak (44%), and which are also rising.
The absolute figures for all these variables can be consulted on our monitoring page, which is updated every day.
We are not talking about mild patients. The ministry also offers income data for intensive care beds fitted with respirators, with figures rising in many communities. In Catalonia, daily entries occupy 2.2% of the available beds (not counting the departures that will also be available), compared to 3.4% that were occupied daily in the worst moment of January 2021. In the Basque Country they are 2 %, compared to 3% in January; and in Asturias 1.3%, also compared to 3% then.
These data should be accompanied by two cautions. The first is that, surely, a part of the income will be people with covid, but who enter for another reason. We do not have exact figures, but according to data from the United Kingdom, 75% of admissions would be sick of covid and the other 25% sick with covid.
We also do not know how many admitted are infected by delta or omicron. In Spain, the arrival of the new variant coincided with a delta wave that was already rising. That is why it is difficult to know if this income that we see is caused by one strain or the other. It is still possible that omicron cases translate into a lower proportion of hospitalizations, as suggested by preliminary studies in different countries, but we may not be fully seeing if there is still admissions caused by delta. Whether or not this is the case is a question to be solved in the coming weeks.
Is the contagion curve bending?
Until we have definitive information on exactly how serious omicron is in vaccinated people, the clearest way out for this new wave is simple: lower infections. In South Africa the wave rose and peaked in four weeks, twice as fast as with delta. And there are experts who believe that this could be characteristic of the new variant.
In Spain at the moment there are no such signs. If we draw a graph on a logarithmic scale with the evolution of the cases by communities, what we see are straight lines. In other words, exponential growth that has not yet diminished.
However, after two years of pandemic, we know that epidemic curves bend very quickly. The best news this week would be to see that, that the new positives were less than the previous week. Even so, the celebrations will have to be contained, because between holidays the case registry often has artificial swings, but it will still be the best possible news.