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Coronavirus incidence rate in Spain falls 64% in a month, with almost all regions now under 300 cases per 100,000 inhabitants



The number of new coronavirus cases in Spain continues to fall. The start of this ongoing descent was first recorded a month ago, on November 9. According to the Spanish Health Ministry’s latest report, released on Wednesday evening, the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now below 300 in nearly every Spanish region and territory. Only the Basque Country (309) and Asturias (304) are above this level. The average incidence rate across Spain now stands at 193.26, down from a peak of 529.43 a month ago – a fall of 63.5%.

The Health Ministry report published on Wednesday also includes figures from Tuesday, when no data was released as it was a public holiday in many regions. According to the report, 9,836 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the two days, bringing the total number of infections since the beginning of the pandemic to 1,712,101. These figures, however, should be viewed with caution, given that there is often underreporting over weekends and public holidays. In some regions, Monday, December 6 was also a public holiday, resulting in a four-day long weekend.

Once you apply rigorous restriction measures, the impact is huge and the risk of contagion is going to be reduced


The number of Covid-19 fatalities should also be treated with the same caution. The Health Ministry added 373 victims to the official death toll, which now stands at 47,019. This equates to an average of 167 deaths over the two-day period, a number not seen since October 28.

Pressure on Spain’s hospitals is also easing, according to Wednesday’s report. Covid-19 patients now occupy 9.91% of all hospital beds, down from 27.28% a month ago. The occupancy rate in intensive care units (ICUs) has also fallen. When the Health Ministry issued its previous report on December 4, Covid-19 patients occupied 24.64% of ICU beds. On Wednesday that figure had fallen to 22.93%.

“The pandemic is evolving fairly well, but we are still far from where we have to get to,” said Health Minister Salvador Illa on Wednesday, in reference to the government’s goal to reduce the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 25.

But while the incidence rate has fallen sharply in the worst-affected regions, with Murcia, Navarre and Aragón recording drops of more than 70% in a month, the fall has not been as significant in the regions with the best epidemiological data. In Galicia, Madrid, Asturias and the Balearic Islands, the incidence rate has dropped by less than 50% in a month. And in the Canary Islands it has even risen 12%, although the region still has the lowest figure in the country.

Patricia Guillem, an epidemiologist from the European University in Valencia, said this situation is normal. “The fall is greater in regions that have greater incidence, because the higher it is, the more significant the change. What’s more [this fall] is essential because the figures they had were very worrying,” she explained.

Incidence rate falling, but at a slower rate

Another issue is that the incidence rate is falling at a slower rate. In the last few days, it has only dropped by 58 points, compared to the 112-point drop between November 20 and 27. This has raised concern that it will be increasingly difficult for Spain to reach its goal of lowering the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants to 25. Former Interior Minister Miguel Sebastián said that the incidence rate will not fall to an acceptable level until January 13. And that is not taking into account the risk of new outbreaks following the Christmas holiday period.

Ramón Gálvez, the former public health chief of Castilla-La Mancha, argued tougher coronavirus restrictions were needed to bring down the incidence rate. “The problem is the force with which you act,” he explained. “If they are weak containment measures, you are not going to eradicate the virus in the region. The example of a strategy to eradicate the virus with drastic measures is China, which currently has 4,746 deaths, when Spain already has more than 46,000.”

He added: “In Spain and Europe, they have preferred containment to lower the figures, compared to contention to eradicate the virus, and they have accepted 250 to 350 people dying every day in the second wave as though it were normal.”

José Martínez Olmos, who was the secretary general for health between 2005 and 2011, agreed on the need for stricter restrictions. He explained that “a large part of the high incidence rate is linked with mobility. Once you apply rigorous restriction measures, the impact is huge and the risk of contagion is going to be reduced.”

Pedro Gullón, from the Spanish Epidemiology Society (SEE), also supported this view. “I am worried that the measures will be relaxed more, that people will relax – people will do what they are allowed to do. Perhaps some places are reopening with transmission levels that are still too high, even though the trend is good.”

False sense of security

Another concern is that the increased use of antigen tests, which provide faster results than the traditional PCR diagnostics, may be creating a false sense of security. Victoria Zunzunegui, a former professor of epidemiology at Montreal University, explained: “Antigen tests are excellent, with sensitivity and specificity similar to PCR in terms of confirming a diagnosis, but they have a very low sensitivity in the general population and this sensitivity falls to below 50% when used in a mass testing scenario.”

According to the latest data, Madrid has carried out 92,000 antigen tests compared to 58,000 PCRs, while in Castilla y León, these figures are 39,000 and 25,000, respectively. Olmos warned: “The greater use of fast testing for diagnoses implies that there is greater risk of underestimating the incidence rate due to false negatives.”

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First image of omicron coronavirus variant shows many more mutations in area that interacts with human cells



independent– Researchers have revealed the first image of omicron, the new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa and Botswana, which shows that it has more mutations than the currently predominant Delta variant.

The 3D image of omicron, produced and published by the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, reveals that the variant has many mutations concentrated in the spike (S) protein — the part of the novel coronavirus that enables it to enter human cells.

“We can clearly see that the omicron variant presents many more mutations than the delta variant, concentrated above all in one area of the protein that interacts with human cells,” the researchers said in a statement on Sunday. “This does not automatically mean that these variations are more dangerous, simply that the virus has further adapted to the human species by generating another variant.”

The scientists called for further studies to unravel if the adaptation seen in the variant is “neutral, less dangerous, or more dangerous”.

Scientists have found about 50 mutations in omicron, 30 of which are on the S protein, and half of those in the receptor-binding domain – the part that binds to the ACE2 receptor on human cells through which the virus enters tissues.

The red dots in the image, researchers said, indicate areas with “very high variability,” while the orange ones are those with “high variability”, and the yellow ones with “medium variability.” Green dots are parts of the S protein showing low difference between the two variants, while the gray area shows portions that do not vary.

“Case numbers tripled in 3 days in South Africa to 2,828, but this is perhaps partly because of intensive monitoring, although it is possible that the transmission rate is double that of delta (R=2) and the doubling time is about 4.8 days,” Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine, Imperial College London, said in a statement on Saturday.

“South Africa is going into summer and rates of delta are very low, so hard to say if omicron competes over delta,” Dr Openshaw added.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation noted that there could be an increased risk of reinfection with the new B.1.1529 coronavirus variant, named omicron, compared to other variants of concern.

“The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa,” the WHO noted in a statement on Friday. “In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant.”

While the number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, the WHO says further studies are underway to understand if the surge in cases is because of omicron or other factors.

The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution also highlighted that it is still unclear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants.

“While preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with omicron,” the experts noted in a statement on Sunday.

They urged all countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating variants of the novel coronavirus, and submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.

The WHO and several health experts across the world have called for increasing global vaccine equity to ensure that new variants of concern do not emerge.

“It is very likely that current vaccines will protect against severe disease with omicron as they do for all the previously identified virus variants. But this does highlight the need to remain vigilant – the pandemic is not over,” Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, said.

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Spanish researchers pave way for fair play in global Covid testing and research



thelocal– The World Health Organisation described the accord as the first transparent, global, non-exclusive licence for a Covid-19 health tool, that should help towards correcting the “devastating global inequity” in access.

The deal brings the Spanish National Research Council CSIC together with the global Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) knowledge-sharing platform.

“The aim of the licence is to facilitate the rapid manufacture and commercialisation of CSIC’s Covid-19 serological test worldwide,” the WHO said.

The test effectively detects anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies developed in response to either a Covid-19 infection or a vaccine.

CSIC, one of Europe’s main public research institutions, will provide the MPP or prospective licencees with know-how and training.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the licence, which will be royalty-free for low and middle-income countries, as “the kind of open and transparent licence we need to move the needle on access during and after the pandemic”.

He added: “I urge developers of Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics to follow this example and turn the tide… on the devastating
global inequity this pandemic has spotlighted.”

C-TAP was founded in May 2020 as a platform for developers of Covid-19 tools to share knowledge and intellectual property.

Set up during the scramble for Covid vaccines and treatments, the health technology repository was first suggested by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado.

The information pool was intended as a voluntary global bank for IP and open-sourced data as part of a common front against the new coronavirus.

However, as it turned out, rival pharmaceutical companies have largely kept their findings to themselves rather than sharing them as global public goods.

Tuesday’s deal “shows that solidarity and equitable access can be achieved”, said Alvarado.

CSIC president Rosa Menéndez said she hoped the move would serve as an example for other research organisations.

‘Preposterous’ tests hoarding

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the test could quantify three different types of antibodies — and crucially, differentiate vaccinated people from those with natural Covid infection.

“This feature will become very important for measuring the number of Covid-19 cases in countries and the impact of control measures,” it said.

In welcoming CSIC’s move, MSF diagnostics adviser Stijn Deborggraeve said it was “preposterous” in a global pandemic that tests were being monopolised by “a handful of privileged people and countries”.

The Geneva-based MPP is a UN-backed international organisation that works to facilitate the development of medicines for low- and middle-income nations.

The antibody test licensing accord is the third Covid-related deal that the global pool has struck in a month.

Last week, the MPP reached an agreement with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to make its prospective antiviral Covid-19 pill available more cheaply in 95 low- and middle-income countries via sub-licensing to generic drug manufacturers.

The MPP signed a similar deal last month with Pfizer’s US rival Merck for its prospective oral antiviral medicine molnupiravir.

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Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO



bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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