Just one day after Spain's state of alarm was fully lifted, a new outbreak of coronavirus has caused restrictions on activities to be reimposed in three counties of north-eastern Aragon, and Spanish health emergency director Fernando Simón, has warned this Monday afternoon that the resurgence could cross into the adjoining counties of Lleida, part of Catalonia. "It is in an area bordering Lleida and, of course, there is this risk," he warned.
The outbreak, in Aragon's Huesca province, has, for the first time since Spain's de-escalation process began, prompted the decision to re-impose controls that had been previously lifted. Thus restrictions equivalent to Phase 2 of the four-phase process will be reinstituted on the counties of La Llitera, Baix Cinca and Cinca Mitjà, an area close to the Catalan border which includes part of the so-called Franja de Ponent, the territorial strip where Catalan language is spoken and which has many economic and cultural links with Lleida.
Initially, it was stated that 25 new infections had been detected in this outbreak, with expectations that the number would rise. Simón focused on the gangs of seasonal workers employed on farms in the area, both in Lleida and in Aragon. Members of these groups working together live on “both sides of the line” and there is “a lot of contact,” he noted. "The work of seasonal agricultural labourers moves from farm to another, and they change locations as each harvest is completed."
The health authorities of Aragon and Catalonia are working in coordination to prevent the outbreak from spreading, although for now there are no signs that infections have been transferred from Huesca to Lleida. Simón is confident that the measures being taken will have an impact on the situation and that the situation will evolve positively in the coming days.
According to the Spanish health ministry, tests are being carried out on everyone in the area with any possible coronavirus symptoms, so that further cases can be detected and contacts followed up and isolated quickly. A total of 38 outbreaks have been detected in Spain since May 11th, and of these, 11 are currently active - that is, it is thought that there is a possibility of new linked cases being found.
Huesca is one of the 11 active outbreaks, and it is the only case where activity restrictions have been reimposed as a result. A children’s party appears to have been a key focus at the start of this outbreak, which was then spread in a horticultural company, as one of the infected individuals came from the celebration to the workplace. Simon explained that the nucleus of the outbreak has generated subsequent family outbreaks, which "may have caused undetected transmission."
The main challenge of the Aragonese health system right now, says the health emergency director, is to detect all cases linked to this outbreak by performing PCR tests on all possible contacts or suspected contacts. "We no longer have to worry about widespread transmission among the population but about local outbreaks and imported cases," said Simón.
At the end of May, the Lleida health district was held back for a week in the de-escalation process due to an unexpected resurgence in case numbers, which was linked to a senior citizens' residence, healthcare personnel, agri-food companies, and a 20-person birthday party.