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Coronavirus patients now occupy more than 50% of the Intensive Care Unit places in Catalan hospitals, a figure that has not been seen since last March. Catalan secretary general of health, Marc Ramentol, and the Covid-19 unit coordinator, Jacobo Mendioroz, explained this Friday that pressure on health care at the moment is high and, overall, ICUs are at 85% of their capacity.

Despite the fact that in recent days there has been a "slowdown" in the number of daily cases and in the "R" reproduction rate in all Catalan regions, - "figures that make us optimistic" - this decline has not been for the moment had any impact on the health care network, which remains on high alert.

"As a health system we are ready to increase the number of ICU beds if necessary. We now have about 800 patients and we could reach 1,500 beds, as in March. But we don't want to get to that point because we don't want to pay the price of having to remove other scheduled activities. The problem there is that we don't have enough staff", said Ramentol.

Professional sanitari COVID-19 UCI hospital del Mar de Barcelona - Efe

Photo: ICU bed at Barcelona's Hospital del Mar / EFE

In this regard, the Catalan health department has stated that if hospital indicators rise any further, "tougher measures will be needed." "It's a difficult scenario because in the coming days we are going to see new cases being admitted to care," they explained. However, they assured that "this situation will not necessarily be a confinement like what we saw in March".

Currently, there are 2,434 coronavirus patients admitted to Catalan hospitals, 47 more than the previous count. There are also 13 new admissions to the ICU, where 447 patients are now receiving care. The increase in admissions has meant that non-urgent operations have begun to be suspended in some hospitals.

More antigen tests

As well, the health authorities have explained that they will increase the number of antigen (or antibody) tests being carried out among the Catalan population, as PCR testing facilities are at a point of saturation. In recent days there has been a massive increase in PCR tests and this has led to the saturation of processing laboratories. According to Ramentol, 48,000 PCR tests were performed in one day and work is being done to increase the diagnostic capacity of the public health system.

At the same time, the department is to distribute one million antigen tests - out of three million such tests it has acquired - to CAP primary care centres and hospitals away from urban centres. These are mainly being used to target people with symptoms, but the health secretary stated that they hope to extend this in the coming weeks to asymptomatic people who are close contacts of confirmed cases.

Along the same lines, Ramentol explained that tracking protocols in use will be updated.

Full lockdown is on the table

In fact, Ramentol asserted this Friday that the new anti-Covid  restrictions just introduced - such as weekend closure of municipal boundaries - will be extended as many days "as are necessary" and if they fail to work he does not rule out urging the Spanish government to consider full stay-at-home lockdown. Ramentol stated that a full lockdown should always be "the last resort" but has not ruled it out. "If we see in the coming days that the measures are not enough, we must urge the Spanish government to consider this possibility," he said.