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Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled her picks for the next European Commission. Heres POLITICOs guide ..

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Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled her picks for the next European Commission. Heres POLITICOs guide to the nominees, whose portfolios were announced on Tuesday.

All will need approval from the European Parliament before they can take up their posts — except von der Leyen, who won confirmation from MEPs in July.

Ursula von der Leyen (Germany), president

Will be the first female Commission president. Born in Brussels. Attended the European School in the suburb of Uccle, graduating two years before Boris Johnson joined the same establishment. Mother of seven children. Entered politics only after she had finished her medical studies. Survived plagiarism accusations in connection with her thesis. Daughter of Ernst Albrecht, former leader of the state of Lower Saxony. Appeared on TV show “Die aktuelle Schaubude” singing with her family. Die Albrecht Familie also released a single in 1978 called “Wohlauf in Gottes schöne Welt” (“Well in Gods beautiful world”). Enrolled at the London School of Economics using the pseudonym Rose Ladson after her father was informed that his family could be a potential target for the Red Army Faction terrorist group. Joined the Christian Democratic Union in 1990, on the same day her father stepped down as state premier. For more than a decade, met with Wolfgang Schäuble for breakfast once a week. Longest-serving minister in Angela Merkels governments.

Frans Timmermans (the Netherlands), Executive vice president for European Green Deal

Not thrilled to have missed out on the job von der Leyen now has. Wears hipster glasses. Feminist. Former Dutch foreign minister. Polyglot. Jean-Claude Junckers right-hand man/plumber. Both grandfathers were coal miners, as he may have mentioned. Four children. Defender of the single-use plastic ban. Refuses to go on a Dutch TV talk show after the host in 2014 pressured him into sharing an undisclosed detail about the attack on the MH17 flight. Not popular with Polish or Hungarian leaders. Has a lookalike called Hans Brusselmans. Vocal supporter of second-division football team Roda JC.

Margrethe Vestager (Denmark), Executive vice president for the Digital Age

Deputy queen of Europe (after Merkel). Failed in her bid to become Commission president but instead expected to get a super-charged portfolio. Donald Trump called her the “tax lady” who “hates the U.S.” because of her battle against tech giants. Former Danish Cabinet minister and main inspiration for the TV series “Borgen.” Known in Denmark for being a tough-minded, kickass finance minister. Knits small elephants to release post-College of Commissioners tension. Speaks French to express enthusiasm (“Mais cest magnifique la Vivatech!” she told French radio in reference to the annual worldwide gathering of startups in Paris).

Austria — Johannes Hahn, Budget and administration

Former minister for science accused of plagiarizing his Ph.D. (what does he think he is, German?) but allowed to keep his doctorate after an inquiry. Set up national “Award of Excellence” for the best doctoral thesis in Austria. Likes launching prizes. Also likes saving money, trying to pull Austria out of the renowned physics laboratory CERN in 2009 in a decision that was quickly overruled. Strong hand to win any future gambling commissioner portfolio as former CEO of betting company Novomatic. Criticized during Austrian student protests, who chanted “Hahn heißt er, uns bescheißt er” (“His name is Hahn, and hes screwing us,” but ruder than that).

Belgium — Didier Reynders, Justice

Softly spoken lawyer from Belgiums Francophone liberal party, the Reformist Movement (MR). Served as minister for finance (1999-2011), and for foreign affairs (2011-2019). In 2014 was in the running to become commissioner and prime minister but missed out on both. Loss of Reynders and Charles Michel (the incoming Council chief) leaves MR without its two big beasts. As finance minister, he devised a system granting major tax breaks to multinational companies, which was ruled illegal state aid by one Margrethe Vestager. Criticized for appearing in blackface.

Bulgaria — Mariya Gabriel, Innovation and Youth

Responsible for digital economy and society in outgoing Commission. Gave up the European Parliament seat she won in May to remain at the Commission. Was an MEP from 2009 to 2017 — and won the MEP of the year prize twice during that time. Was a teacher and a researcher at Sciences Po Bordeaux. Loves bees. Wants to close the digital gender gap. Was cleared by Bulgarias anti-corruption commission of a potential conflict of interest case involving an apartment. Focuses on fake news, digital skills and the promotion of the European audiovisual sector. Does her own tweeting.

Croatia — Dubravka Šuica, Vice-president for Democracy and Demography

Was mayor of Dubrovnik but left the post before the city gained even greater fame as Kings Landing in “Game of Thrones.” Taught German in Croatia, which could come in handy considering who the new boss is. Spent the last six years as an MEP, and rising through the ranks to become first vice chair of the European Peoples Party in July. Apparently wasnt crazy about the prospect of moving to the Berlaymont: insiders say she had to be begged to take the job.

Cyprus — Stella Kyriakides, Health

Born under British rule, she trained in Britain as a child psychologist. As vice president of the Democratic Rally party since 2013, shes President Nicos Anastasiades right arm. Career politician. Local press describes her as a “Mother Theresa” figure who tries to help others but doesnt express strong opinions. Also dressed up as a nun at Nicosias carnival parade last year. Pushed for a law in 2018 decriminalizing abortion. This would be her first Brussels gig, but shes known in Europe for her stint as president of the Council of Europes Parliamentary Assembly (a rather powerless body tasked with holding 47 European governments to account on human rights and rule of law issues).

Czech Republic — Věra Jourová, Vice-president for Values and Transparency

Responsible for justice, consumers and gender equality in the outgoing Commission (but was “shocked” not to get the regional development portfolio). Studied cultural anthropology. Was a minister and an MP in her home country in the early 2010s. Spent 33 days in a Czech prison in 2006 after being falsely accused of corruption. Deleted her Facebook account over hate speech. Wants fish fingers, coffee and other types of food and beverages to have the same quality in Eastern and Western Europe. Made Airbnb change their terms of service. Her life story has been compared to a “dark version of Borgen.”

Estonia — Kadri Simson, Energy

Described as “always prepared” and “smiley.” But also no technocrat, according to one diplomat. Known in Tallinn for being very loyal to her Center Party. Unsuccessfully challenged for leadership of her party in 2015. Brought up in the university town of Tartu, which Estonians say “carries a spirit” that youll only understand if you visit (they may get kickbacks from the tourist board).

Finland — Jutta Urpilainen, International Partnerships

Former finance minister and ex-leader of the Social Democrats. Veteran breaker of glass ceilings — she was the first woman to hold either of those jobs. Also Finlands first female commissioner. Studied to become a school principal, but decided politics was a better fit. Known for her tough line demanding collateral in exchange for bailouts during the eurozone crisis. Crowned Europes “fourth best finance minister” in 2012. Will join the Commission straight from parental leave, as she recently adopted a second child from Colombia. Recorded a Christmas album called “Christmassy thoughts” featuring versions of “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.” Here she is singing “We Will Rock You.

France — Sylvie Goulard, Internal Market

Marseillaise with a soft spot for Europe, Germany and anything eurozone-related. Short-lived defense minister. Part of the French team that negotiated on the reunification of Germany. Designer of the Macron brand in Brussels. Very plugged-in EU integrationist who speaks German and Italian. Author of books such as “Europe: love or separate beds?” and “Goodbye Europe!” Stood for the European Parliament presidency in 2016. Worked for Romano Prodi when he was Commission president. Currently deputy governor of the French central bank. Once said there shouldnt be a Commission full of “old white men.” MEPs will grill her over alleged misuse of EU funds by her party during her time in the European Parliament and highly paid side gig as a consultant to a U.S. think tank.

Greece — Margaritis Schinas, Vice-president for Protecting our European way of life

Until recently European Commission chief spokesperson. Sometimes known as “senior Commission official.” Now becomes, well, a more senior Commission official. A member of the European Parliament for Greeces center-right New Democracy between 2007 and 2009. Married to Mercedes Alvargonzález, a top European Parliament official. Has quoted the Spice Girls from the podium. Not a fan of being called a “bureaucrat.” Once told a Belgian reporter the Commission had “no intention to ban Belgian fries and another kind of fries,” and added: “Les frites, cest chic!” Has a reputation for taking calls and answering messages; even his enemies say that he replies to them. But not a press room favorite.

Hungary — László Trócsányi, Neighborhood and Enlargement

MEP who served as Hungarys justice minister from 2014 until 2019. Was a member of the countrys Constitutional Court and had stints as ambassador to Belgium and France. Not a member of the countrys ruling Fidesz party, but led the partys list in the European Parliament election. Perceived as loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Candidacy faced questions as he served as justice minister at a time when critics say the Hungarian government worked to undermine checks and balances.

Ireland — Phil Hogan, Trade

Fixer, bruiser, wily operator. As EU farm chief, steered the bloc through a milk overproduction crisis and proposed his own Common Agricultural Policy. Took flak in Ireland from farmers over the Mercosur trade agreement. Fine Gael government views him as a shrewd deal-maker who helps Ireland punch above its weight. Has been brutally critical of Brexit and Boris Johnson. Reputation at home sullied after introducing an unpopular water charge at the height of the financial crisis. Stands 1.95 meters tall. Renowned for his hearty Irish diet of meat and potatoes. Has been known to greet reporters with an affectionate “this little f**ker!”

Italy — Paolo Gentiloni, Economy

Descendant of Count Gentiloni Silveri. Former prime minister. Aristocratic far-left activist in his twenties, turned president of the Democratic Party. Polyglot and former journalist. Former minister for foreign affairs and communications. Known for his elegance, manners and diplomatic skills. One of the most vehement opponents of his partys new governing alliance with the populist 5Stars. A move to Brussels is the perfect way for him to pull out of national politics. Known as “er moviola” (“slow-mover” in Romes local dialect).

Latvia — Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive vice-president for An Economy that Works for People

Was prime minister for almost half a decade, as the government was forced to slash salaries and spending under an international bailout. Stepped down after 54 people died when a shopping center collapsed. Worked as a lab assistant in Germany. Ex-MEP. Arriving in Brussels, he was made vice president for the euro and social dialogue, albeit with a public-speaking style more disciplined than chatty (except perhaps while sharing a few drinks with the press). Mid-term, he picked up the pieces of the financial services file, after Britains Jonathan Hill quit.

Lithuania — Virginijus Sinkevičius, Environment and Oceans

Doesnt seem to be big on climate change or gender equality (in Lithuania at least), which could cause trouble with his new boss. Member of the Farmers and Greens Union party, which is not green enough for other Greens. Youngest Commission nominee, at 28. Entered politics in 2016. Known for keeping a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat in his office. Studied in the U.K. and the Netherlands. Worked for the Lithuania Tribune news portal. Once won an award for “Best Solution for Better Business Environment of the Year,” whatever that means.

Luxembourg — Nicolas Schmit, Jobs

Born in Luxembourgs steel heartlands. Polyglot. Socialist with international ambitions. Long-serving labor minister under coalition governments led by Jean-Claude Juncker and Xavier Bettel. Formerly von der Leyens opposite number when she was labor minister in Germany. No stranger to Brussels. Served as Luxembourgs ambassador and permanent representative to the EU for six years. In a 2011 scandal, he denied attempting to pressure police officers to drop charges against his son. The 18th most popular Luxembourg politician, according to a survey. WonRead More – Source

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Coronavirus cases in Spain officially top two million

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The number of coronavirus cases recorded in Spain since the beginning of the pandemic officially exceeded two million on Thursday, amid warnings of difficult weeks ahead. According to the Health Ministry’s latest report, all data points clearly indicate that the pandemic continues to follow an upward trend. Thursday’s report – which also included figures from Wednesday as it was a public holiday (the Health Ministry does not release data on holidays or over the weekend) – registered 42,360 new coronavirus cases. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants now stands at 321, up from 296 on Tuesday. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital and intensive care units (ICUs) rose by 1,514 and 134, respectively. Thursday’s report added 245 Covid-19-related deaths to the official toll.

But the Health Ministry does not believe the rising trend will impact the return to school, which has already happened in some regions, and will begin on Monday in others. When asked about the possibility of closing schools on Thursday, health official María José Sierra replied: “We do not recommend it.”

“It [schools] is one of the areas that have worked best, where there has been the most control. There were no outbreaks,” said Sierra, from the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), who was standing in for the center’s director, Fernando Simón. The health official highlighted the enormous social and learning impact of closing schools and said that any new measures would target sectors that are hubs for contagions.

On the question of a new home lockdown, which has been introduced in countries like the United Kingdom, Sierra replied: “There are many measures to take before a strict confinement.” The health official defended the use of partial restrictions, like perimetral lockdowns and limits on social gatherings, which “proved their effectiveness” during the second wave of the pandemic. On November 9, Spain recorded its highest incidence rate when the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants reached 529. The incidence rate began to fall after that date until rising again at the beginning of December.

It is important to note that Thursday’s report recorded a 25-point rise in Spain’s incidence rate even though the 14-day cumulative number includes three public holidays (Christmas, New Year’s Day, King’s Day), when there is typically underreporting. What’s more, fewer PCR and antigen tests have been carried out: while 140,000 tests were being done every day in the middle of December, between December 28 and January 3 – the last week with complete data – only 110,000 tests were administered in the entire week.

With fewer tests being done – most of which are carried out on patients with symptoms –, the positivity rate i.e. the percentage of tests that come back positive out of the total, has also risen. While 20 days ago this figure stood at 8%, it rose to 13.5% last week and to 15.6% on January 4. But experts warn the rise suggests that many chains of transmission are going undetected.

“It is a trend that is worrying us,” said Sierra on Thursday, who added that the weekly positivity rate exceeded 15% in five regions and 20% in three. “Among suspected cases diagnosed in primary healthcare centers, [the positivity rate] is already close to 30%,” she added.

According to Thursday’s report, Extremadura has the highest incidence rate in Spain, recording a 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants of 717. It is followed by the Balearic Islands (529) and Madrid (452). Asturias, Andalusia and the Canary Islands are the only regions where the incidence rate is below 200.

Hospital and ICU admissions – considered one of the most objective indicators of the pandemic – also rose significantly since Tuesday. A total of 14,543 Covid-19 patients are currently admitted to hospital, occupying 11.9% of all hospital beds. The occupancy rate in ICUs is 24%, with 2,307 patients in intensive care.

Sierra confirmed that Spain has detected nearly 50 cases of the new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus that was discovered in the United Kingdom, while many more cases are being studied.

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-01-08/coronavirus-cases-in-spain-officially-top-two-million.html

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The year that Spain had to leave the hugs behind

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The new year starts on January 1, but in Spain, with its long and unusual Christmas holidays, it doesn’t really get going until January 7, once the Three Kings have departed. On January 7, 2020, the lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies, swore in Pedro Sánchez as prime minister. That same day, in China, scientists discovered what was causing strange cases of pneumonia in the province of Hubei: a virus similar to the one that caused SARS, a disease that rocked a number of Asian countries in 2003 and disappeared several months later. The script for 2020 changed forever. Back then, no one could have imagined what was soon to arrive: from the biggest pandemic the world has seen in generations, to a vaccine created in record time to eradicate it. It’s been a year of masks, lockdowns, social distancing, PCR tests and curve-flattening. A year when we could no longer hug one another.

January. A far-off threat

On January 7 no one outside specialist circles was paying much attention to the virus. While it would emerge later that China was hiding evidence that it could be transmitted from person to person, at the time it was thought that it could only move from animals to people. The wet market in Wuhan was closed as a likely source of the outbreak, and from then on, it was thought that there would be no further problems. Several days after the genetic code of the virus was sequenced, it was made public so that other countries could prepare PCR tests to identify it. China, on paper, was being swift and transparent, in contrast to its approach to SARS, when its secrecy delayed a solution to the problem for months.

Everything changed on January 20. And from then on events took place at a vertiginous speed. On that day, China admitted that the virus could be passed from human to human. That turned the strategy for dealing with it upside down. The country was still only officially recognizing 300 cases and six deaths, but the potential for the damage it could cause was now being looked at in a different light – in particular within the borders of the Asian giant. Practically no one at that point was considering the possibility of a pandemic. Three days later, China locked down the city of Wuhan. The virus became front-page news in all newspapers, and – apart from a few moments of respite – would stay there until now.

Millions of people were locked in their homes, unable to leave their city. The world looked on incredulous at what was happening. “This would be unthinkable in a democratic country,” analysts said over and over again. While the World Health Organization (WHO) was debating whether or not to declare an international emergency, something it had only done on five occasions in the 20th century, in Spain the news began to spark interest given that 23 Spaniards who lived in Wuhan were trying to return to their home country. On January 24, Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), made his first statement. He was not a completely unknown figure, given that he was the spokesperson during the 2014 ebola crisis in Spain, but practically no one remembered him.

Almost casually, Simón announced that there had been two suspected cases that were being analyzed. But that tests had come back negative and that Spain would be vigilant for the virus. On January 30, the WHO declared an international emergency and on January 31 Spain’s National Microbiology Center in Majadahonda detected the first positive case. It was a German citizen who was on vacation in the Canary Island of La Gomera. That day, Simón uttered a phrase that will likely follow him around for the rest of his life: “Spain will not have, at the most, more than a few cases diagnosed.”

February. The virus spreads across the world

Silently, the virus was already spreading throughout the globe. While there was only a handful of infections outside of China, later it would emerge that the coronavirus was preparing the ground to explode and become a pandemic, something that the WHO did not recognize until March 11.

February was the month that the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was canceled, despite the indignation of local administrations and the surprise of the majority of epidemiologists. It was also the month when the virus ripped through Italy. The epidemic was no longer thousands of kilometers away, but rather just hundreds. But in Spain it still felt very far away. “This couldn’t happen to us,” many citizens thought, backed by a government that was trying to convey a sense of calm and that delayed a number of decisions because the virus was, in theory anyway, under control.

But you can’t detect something if you’re not looking for it. Spain had a very limited capacity to carry out tests, meaning that the definition of a case was still very restricted. It was a fish that was eating its own tail – more tests could not be carried out, without more tests more cases could not be detected, and without more cases there was supposedly no need to take drastic measures.

March. The state of alarm

March began with a steady stream of cases, all of them apparently under control. The turning point came on March 8. The central government had opted not to cancel large events, and sports matches, political rallies and demonstrations continued as if nothing had changed. While the 8-M feminist marches – which were attended by many high-profile politicians from the Socialist Party (PSOE)-Unidas Podemos coalition government – were the focus of much media attention and criticism afterward, they were just one of the events that went ahead that weekend. And, given what we now know about how the virus is transmitted, they were not exactly the most dangerous.

But what changed on that day had little to do with these crowds. On the same afternoon, the CCAES received a report from the Madrid region – in Spain, each of the regional governments is in charge of its own healthcare system. That week, the region reported, the number of positive cases had been rising at a steady rate, and on that very Sunday, 234 had been confirmed in a single day. This information was not made public until the next day, and it was the first thing that prompted the central Health Ministry to suspect that the epidemic was out of control.

The health minister, Salvador Illa, made a statement the next day to recommend that citizens did not make unnecessary journeys. And the Madrid region opted to suspend classes in schools and universities. The CCAES did not see the point in this latter measure, given that it would prompt the movement around the country of students and teachers, and would count for little without suspending the rest of the country’s activity.

Preparations began for a decree that would be approved by the Cabinet on March 14, 24 hours after the prime minister made a televised address announcing that a state of alarm was imminent. By that point, the atmosphere in the Spanish capital was already strange. Children weren’t going to school and a lot of companies had already introduced working from home.

On March 14, a state of alarm that would last 98 days began, seeing most of the country’s population confined to their homes for around two months. That night also saw the first round of applause for healthcare workers, a nightly practice that would last for even longer.

But the lockdown was insufficient. The country’s hospitals were already close to being overwhelmed and if more drastic measures were not taken the tragedy would be even greater. That was what prompted Pedro Sánchez, advised by a group of scientists, to hibernate the economy completely, and allow only essential activity to continue. This phase began on March 29, and lasted for 15 days. The last day of that month, Spain saw the highest number of infections reported in this first wave: 9,222, a completely unreal number not just due to the delay in notifications from hospitals but also because around that time it has been estimated that only one in 10 infections were being officially recorded. But it was symbolic: this was the day that the curve was flattened. Two weeks of confinement had done their job, but there was a long road still ahead.

April. Hospitals and senior homes overwhelmed

While new cases had reached their peak and deaths would do so shortly after (950 Covid-related fatalities were reported on April 2), the distress in hospitals and care homes would still continue for weeks. There was a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff, beds and respirators. The state of alarm had arrived in time for most of the regions, and they were able to attend to everyone who needed it. But this was not the case in Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country and some cities in Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y León.

In these locations triage was necessary in order to deal with the sickest patients, and thousands of seniors, in particular in Madrid, were left abandoned to their fate in residences. It was still difficult to conceive the painful toll that the virus would take in senior homes, which were one of the main focal points of the crisis and uncovered structural problems in the system.

Up to mid-November, more than 24,500 died in social services residences (including homes for the disabled) with either confirmed Covid or compatible symptoms. In the first wave, many of these victims did not receive the medical attention they needed, and were unable to say goodbye to their relatives. What’s more, their carers were ever fewer as they also came down with the illness.

This was also the month of one of the symbols of the pandemic: face masks. Until then, international organizations did not consider them to be essential, partly because at that point the virus was unknown and also, to a great extent, demand for the items was having a drastic effect on supply.

Given the possibility that healthcare workers would run out of masks (something that happened), the authorities opted not to recommend their use. But on April 8 the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) admitted that they could be useful to prevent infections. Two days later, Health Minister Illa recommended their use on public transport and in the workplace, a measure that would soon become obligatory in all public places.

But while the situation was extreme in hospitals in the month of April, there were also the first rays of hope on the horizon. The lockdown in Spain was one of the toughest in the Western world and was starting to take its toll. There were widespread calls for, at least, children to be allowed out after six weeks inside, something that was permitted from April 26. Youngsters could go out for an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, and only a kilometer away from their home. The deescalation process had got off to a timid start.

May. The deescalation

The Spanish government managed to secure the support it needed from other parties to prolong the state of alarm on a fortnightly basis, but it was becoming more and more difficult to do so. A team of advisors was working on the deescalation plan, which was being designed to get the country back to some kind of normality – or the new normality, as the prime minister would describe it. It was to be an asymmetrical and progressive plan that each region would implement according to the epidemiological situation and the pressure on local hospitals. Phase 1 of the plan would begin on May 11 apart from for four of the country’s islands: Formentera, El Hierro, La Gomera and La Graciosa. With no cases reported for some days, they turned into a testing ground a week beforehand.

With the deescalation process, conflict between some regional governments and the central administration broke out. Until then there had been differences and some tugs-of-war, in particular involving the Madrid region. But these were pushed aside due to the severity of the situation. When the worst was over, however, these differences became more and more evident.

Despite reports from her own health department that advised against it, the Popular Party premier of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, flew up a flag that she still carries to this day, touting Madrid as a symbol of “freedom” in the face of the government’s restrictions, which she considered to be excessive. As the coronavirus data continued to improve, more and more regional governments called for the state of alarm to be lifted so that they could regain their powers and manage the situation for themselves.

June. The end of the state of alarm

While the deescalation was designed to end at the beginning of July, the lack of support and pressure from opposition parties and regions prompted the government to bring it to an end on June 22. That was the end of the state of alarm and a chance for the regions to take a step toward the new normality. Some restrictions remained in place, but there was a general relaxation when Spain registered eight cases per 100,000 inhabitants over thee previous 14 days, the lowest figure seen since the start of the crisis and one that has not been seen since then – by a long, long way.

July. The start of the second wave

As the measures were relaxed, so the cases began to rise. The second wave started to take shape, very slowly. At this point, as at the start of the pandemic, there was a trickle of cases being detected. The seed was planted among seasonal workers in Aragón, which became the first region that had to reverse the deescalation process, and then it was the turn of Catalonia. From that point all of the regions started to react to the rise in cases with tightened measures.

August. Nightlife is canceled

It seemed impossible to believe, but the situation began to get out of control once more. Without enough capacity for tracking and tracing, Spain was leading a second wave that was yet to arrive in other European countries. The focus was on youngsters and nightlife, prompting the Health Ministry and the regions to approve a raft of measures that included the closure of nightlife – something that remains in force today and is unlikely to be modified for several months yet.

September. Madrid, the epicenter of controversy

Madrid was both the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe and of controversy in Spain. With cases rising non-stop, regional premier Isabel Ayuso was unwilling to take drastic measures and so the central government opted to intervene. At a meeting between the Health Ministry and regional chiefs, a majority voted to impose more restrictive measures on mobility in areas where there were more than 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a 14-day period, where the positivity rate of tests was in excess of 10%, and where the rate of intensive care unit (ICU) beds by Covid patients was above 35%. With these criteria, 10 municipalities in the region, including the capital, were forced to establish perimetral lockdowns among other limitations.

October. Measures, counter-measures and a new state of alarm

The curve was rising or falling depending on the region. Spain’s territories were approving ever-more-restrictive measures in order to slow the second wave, but as the month progressed the trend rose in nearly all of the country. The Health Ministry created a risk map, on which the majority of regions were soon in what was considered a level of extreme risk.

The central government was preparing the ground for a new state of alarm, and more and more regions were calling for the measure, which was finally approved on October 25. To avoid having to seek parliamentary support for it on a regular basis, as was the case in the first wave, this time it was put in place for six months. The effect was to give the regions the powers to limit mobility without risk of the move being challenged in the courts, as had already happened previously. It also permitted for a nighttime curfew, and limits on the number of people who could meet in social settings.

November. The vaccine arrives

In the fight against the second wave, which was seeing the number of infections and fatalities rise, there was some light at the end of the tunnel On November 16, Moderna announced that its coronavirus vaccine was 95% effective. Two days later, Pfizer did the same. And a week after that, Oxford-AstraZeneca confirmed its vaccine worked, albeit with a lower rate of success. It would be a question of weeks before regulatory bodies would give the green light to the vaccination program, which would start to take the world out of the nightmare that began in January.

December. A different Christmas and the first vaccinations

The process to approve the vaccines went quicker than anyone had imagined. In the first half of December, the immunizations began in some countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. But with the solution already underway, there were still some problems to be solved. The second wave was still threatening most of Europe, including Spain, and the critical Christmas holidays were approaching. These would provide the virus with its preferred ecosystem: social meetings, dinners in enclosed spaces and high mobility. To avoid a winter as complicated as the previous spring, governments got to work to come up with plans that would allow families to see one another, but with the biggest limits possible on such encounters.

Spain approved a general framework that could be modified by each region. Mobility was permitted to see family members and allegados, a term that caused considerable confusion. The curfew would be pushed back on the major dates of the holiday season and the number of people permitted to meet would be raised. But the virus continued to spread and many regions backtracked on the relaxation of measures. The consensus among experts was that after these dates the number of cases would rise. But few went as far as to predict by how much, in particular in the light of the discovery of a new, more infections strain of the virus in the United Kingdom.

The virus has spent the year surprising us. Everyone’s hopes are now on 2021, but there is still a way to go yet for the pandemic, and the next chapters are far from written.

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/society/2020-12-31/the-year-that-spain-had-to-leave-the-hugs-behind.html

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Health Ministry reports 14,000 new coronavirus infections, adds 320 victims to overall death toll

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As the Covid-19 vaccination drive gets started in Spain, the pandemic is not letting up. The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 14,000 new confirmed infections and added 320 fatalities to the overall death toll. The fall in the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Monday was short lived, and the data point is now at 255, once again above the 250-mark that is considered to be extreme risk by the Health Ministry. The pressure on Spanish hospitals, meanwhile, remains high, with 12,000 Covid-19 patients currently receiving treatment, 2,000 of them in intensive care units (ICUs).

Infections are on the rise in all regions, apart from Andalusia and Cantabria, where the incidence has fallen slightly. Six regions have a 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants above 250, although the worst situation is in the Balearics, which has doubled that limit. The islands currently have a rate of 522, which has prompted the authorities there to ramp up the social restrictions ahead of the New Year. Stores and restaurants will have to close at 6pm – apart from those selling essential products – on the island of Mallorca, which has a cumulative number of 607 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a two-week period.

Cantabria, which has a cumulative number of 157 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, has also ramped up its coronavirus restrictions, limiting social meetings to six people on New Year’s Eve and January 1, while a curfew will be in place at 12.30am. Other regions, meanwhile, have opted to maintain their current restrictions despite the rise in cases and pressure on hospitals. Catalonia, for example, which has seen the proportion of Covid patients rise 14% in 10 days, opted on Monday to maintain its current measures saying that they “are already very drastic.”

The latest figures clearly show, however, a growth in the circulation of the virus across Spain and as such a rise in infections. In the Valencia region, for example, new contagions have shot up with the second highest numbers of infections and deaths ever seen, at 3,590 and 60, respectively. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in this region is currently at 364, only behind the Balearics and Extremadura (422).

The increase in infections, which can be linked to the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions at the start of December, is having an effect in Spain’s hospitals, which, with already high occupation levels, are holding their breath ahead of the threat of a possible third wave after the Christmas holidays.

According to the latest report, 10% of hospital beds (12,032 in total) are occupied by Covid-19 patients. Of these, 2,005 are in the ICU, 21% of the total. There are regions, however, which are suffering more than others, such as the Balearic Islands, which is now near to 30% occupation with Covid-19 patients, and Madrid, which is hovering around 25% occupation. A third of ICU beds in Catalonia are also being used to treat people infected with the coronavirus.

As has been seen during the pandemic so far, a rise in infections followed by a spike in hospitalizations has a domino effect on the number of fatalities. There were 320 Covid-related deaths added to the overall total on Tuesday, with more than 500 reported over the last seven days. Since the start of the pandemic, the Spanish Health Ministry has recorded 50,500 official victims, although the real total is likely to be much higher due to the high numbers of victims who passed away before being tested during the first wave.

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/society/2020-12-30/health-ministry-reports-14000-new-coronavirus-infections-adds-320-victims-to-overall-death-toll.html

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