In Spain, a fourth wave of COVID-19 is taking hold

Infection rates are rising across the country as the race to roll out vaccines is challenged by delays and fears of rare side effects.

Spain has recorded 3.39 million COVID-19 infections since the pandemic erupted [File: Susana Vera/Reuters]

A fourth wave of coronavirus infections appears to be emerging in Spain, where case numbers have risen to their highest levels since late February.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 10,474 new infections on Wednesday, bringing the overall tally to 3.39 million in one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries.

“We have been seeing a rising trend, a slow but continuous rate of growth,” Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted Health Minister Carolina Darias as saying on Wednesday.

The rise in cases also coincided with an uptick in Spain’s death toll, which climbed by 131 on Wednesday to 76,756 overall, according to the health ministry’s figures.

The latest figures mean that for the first time in nearly two months, there are more than 200 cases per 100,000 people. But while a worrying development, this rate is still well below a January peak of 900.

Caseloads rise in most regions

Infection rates are currently rising in all but a handful of Spain’s regions, including the Canary and Balearic Islands, Valencia, Galicia and Murcia, according to El Pais.

In the central region of Madrid, which houses Spain’s capital, the 14-day cumulative case rate now stands at 347 per 100,000 people, according to the newspaper.

Madrid has consistently opted for looser measures to contain the virus than the rest of Spain and kept bars and restaurants open since last summer.

Infection rates are highest in the northern region of Navarre, where the 14-day figure stands at 433 cases per 100,000 people, El Pais reported. Only the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa have registered worse incidence rates.

The surge in infections has put pressure on hospitals across Spain, where one in five beds in intensive care units are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, El Pais reported.

Darias called for Spain’s regions to adopt restrictive measures in a bid to control the outbreak, such as banning bars and restaurants from serving customers indoors, according to the newspaper.

Mass vaccination drive

Darias also said on Wednesday that she was confident Spain could maintain its coronavirus vaccination targets despite global concerns over the Johnson & Johnson shot – and consequent delays.

Like AstraZeneca’s jab, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has raised fears of blood clotting as a rare side effect.

The early delivery in the second quarter of 50 million doses produced by Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines to European Union countries partially offset the doubts caused by the United States’ suspension of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine.

Spain will receive between four and five million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected in the second quarter, Darias said.

Spain received an initial delivery of 146,000 Johnson & Johnson’s doses on Wednesday, which the Health Ministry said would be kept in storage pending new guidance from the European Medicines Agency, expected next week.

Darias echoed earlier statements by Industry Minister Reyes Maroto, who remained optimistic about getting 70 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer – a level considered to aid herd immunity.

Spain aims to have half its population of 47 million fully inoculated by the end of July. So far about 6.7 percent have been fully inoculated.

The mass immunisation programme has become increasingly urgent amid the rise in infections nationwide.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies