Spain only wants to treat Corona like flu

90.5 percent of the population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated in Spain.

Jordi Boixareu / ZUMA Press Wire / dpa (Symbobild)

In Spain, the vaccination rate is particularly high, as is the number of infections at the moment. The government wants to classify Corona as an endemic disease, but the WHO warns.

More people are currently being infected with the corona virus in Europe than ever before. Nevertheless, some countries have started to treat Covid-19 like other endemic diseases similar to the flu – most notably Spain. However, the WHO warns: According to the World Health Organization, it is still too early for this approach.

The left-leaning Spanish government is working to classify Covid as an endemic disease, with seasonal outbreaks that people can live with and that do not overwhelm the health system. This step is “timely and necessary,” says Health Minister Carolina Darias.



High vaccination rate

The conditions for such a change in strategy are better in Spain than in Switzerland, for example: 90.5 percent of the population over the age of twelve are fully vaccinated in the southern European country – this is one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

Despite records in new infections due to the omicron wave, fewer people are dying than with previous virus variants and the number of hospital admissions is falling. Some countries are already easing restrictions and shortening isolation times.

Pandemic “far from over”

“As Covid becomes endemic, we need to replace legal regulations with advice and recommendations,” said the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday and announced that most corona measures would soon be lifted. “We have to learn to live with Covid,” British Health Minister Sajid Javid argued earlier this year.

“The pandemic is far from over,” warns WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. New virus variants could always appear. Diseases or pathogens are described as endemic if they occur permanently and frequently in a limited region or in parts of the population.



Endemic does not mean harmless

However, endemic does not mean that the disease is harmless, clarifies WHO Director for Emergency Relief, Michael Ryan. This is made clear by the example of malaria, which is endemic in many regions.

Fernando García, a researcher at Spain’s National Center for Epidemiology, warns that the debate about Covid as an endemic disease raises “false hopes”. “We are indeed moving towards the virus becoming more endemic, but we cannot say that we have reached that stage yet,” says Marco Cavaleri of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). When this point is reached cannot be pinned down to a specific number of cases.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach also believes that Covid will eventually become endemic. For him, however, this is one more reason to push ahead with protective measures such as general vaccination. “If everything goes well and we manage to close the vaccination gaps with compulsory vaccination, we can move into an endemic situation this year,” he said in a newspaper interview at the beginning of January.

mild symptoms?

If the coronavirus becomes truly endemic, “most people will have mild symptoms” and few will die from complications, says epidemiologist García. In such a situation, “it will never happen that a quarter of the beds in intensive care units are occupied by Covid patients, not even five percent”. More than 23 percent of the intensive care beds in Spain are currently occupied by corona patients.

Nevertheless, some doctors in Spain also support the government’s course. “Let’s stop testing healthy people with mild symptoms, let’s stop tracking their contacts, let’s stop isolation and quarantine,” says the Spanish medical association SemFYC, for example, which represents 19,000 general practitioners. “All these measures have become meaningless with acquired immunity — both through infection and vaccination — and the arrival of Omicron.”

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