MADRID – The Community of Madrid will close its borders with other Spanish regions next month for 10 days to curb infection rates over a long holiday weekend, while health authorities in the Italian autonomous alpine region of South Tyrol announced a three-day campaign to test 70% of its population.
Germany broke its own record for daily coronavirus infections on Friday, a day after health officials said they were optimistic that contagion rates could be brought to manageable levels next week, while authorities in France said on Friday that the country had overcome the second wave’s peak but warned against lifting restrictions too soon.
The Community of Madrid will seal itself off for ten days from Dec. 4-14, a period which includes a long bank holiday weekend, to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The measure is being imposed in the hopes of making it to the Christmas period with the lowest possible infection rates, regional government’s deputy public health minister, Antonio Zapatero, said on Friday. In addition to saving the Christmas holiday season, the authorities hope the restrictions will continue flattening the infection curve.
In the last fourteen days, the Madrid region has reported an accumulated incidence of 297 per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the latest official data from the Community of Madrid, there are currently 2,266 patients admitted: 1,881 on the ward (43.4% less than at the peak) and 385 in the ICU (23.7% less), “already very significant” drops and a 65.21% drop in the number of positive cases compared with the highest figures of the second wave. However, Zapatero warned these figures must be treated “with caution,” as this is a “critical” moment.
The Spanish capital regularly receives thousands of visitors from other regions during the so-called ‘bridge of the Constitution’ – several holidays around Constitution Day on Dec. 6, the religious festival of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and at the weekend, when thousands come to the capital city to see the Christmas lights and go shopping for gifts.
Madrid’s center-right regional leadership had until now rejected such an extended border closure, approving only a short four-day border closure in October at the insistence of the socialist Spanish government. Together with the Community of Madrid, other Spanish regions also announced border closures during the Constitution holiday.
The spread of the pandemic is slowing, with successive drops in the cumulative incidence, which is currently 436.27 per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, according to the health ministry. But the Ministry of Health’s spokesman on the pandemic, epidemiologist Fernando Simon, warned on Thursday that “although the trend is very favorable, we cannot be confident at all,” as the figures are still very high, far above the targets set for high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk situations.
Germany set a new record of 23,648 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, up by 1,039 more than the previous day and 106 more than the previous record set last week, the Robert Koch Institute said.
For Germany as a whole, the cumulative incidence over seven days stands at 139.0 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The reproduction factor (R), which reflects the spread of infections over the past 8 to 16 days, is 0.99, meaning that 100 infected people infect an average of 99 others.
The President of the RKI, Lothar Wieler, warned on Thursday that the pandemic situation in Germany was “still very serious,” despite the stabilization of infection figures, which are “still too high.” He was, however, “very optimistic” that infections could fall back to more manageable levels as early as next week.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet again with the heads of government of the federal states to try to agree on a package of measures after failing to reach a consensus for tougher restrictions last week.
French health authorities said on Friday that France had overcome the peak of the second wave of the pandemic, but recommended keeping prevention measures in place to avoid a new outbreak.
“Although indicators remain at high levels, they suggest that the epidemic peak of the second wave has been exceeded,” said the French Public Health Service (SPF) in its weekly statement.
The data indicates a significant decrease in all epidemiological indicators, especially in cities where a curfew was introduced on Oct. 17. In the week from Nov. 9-15, contagion fell by 40%, hospitalizations by 13% and admissions to intensive care by 9%, while the number of deaths “is starting to stabilize for the first time after several weeks of increasing.” During this period, 3,756 deaths caused by COVID-19 were recorded, compared to 3,817 the previous week.
There was also a decrease in the positivity rate, with 16.2% positive tests, compared to 19.7 in the previous week. But the SPF warned against prematurely lifting the measures, which it sees as the only means of curbing the epidemic until vaccines are available.
The autonomous province of Alto Adige, or South Tyrol, in northern Italy, began on Friday a campaign to test at least 70% of its population, some 350,000 people, for coronavirus, after having to lockdown its citizens amid rising infections.
Around 900 doctors, nurses and White Cross and Red Cross operators have been deployed and together with administrative staff it is estimated that around 1,500 people will be tested each day.
“A province-wide screening test like this allows us to identify as yet unknown sources of infection: it is a great opportunity to stop the spread of infection,” said provincial president Arno Kompatscher.
“It is true that there is a risk of being identified as positive and having to remain in quarantine, but it is a much more serious risk of unintentionally infecting loved ones or colleagues. Taking the test is the responsible choice towards the community,” Kompatscher said.
Taking the test is voluntary. To that end, some South Tyrolean companies will be adding a supplement to their next salary to encourage employees to get tested. In the event of a positive antigen test, patients will be required to isolate at home for 10 days.