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Health authorities have decided against ordering a return to lockdown for any areas in ​​Catalonia's western health region of Lleida, where new outbreaks of coronavirus are known to have infected 130 people. Instead, Catalan health minister Alba Vergés appeared this Friday afternoon and called for the public to to play its part by complying with the basic hygiene and social distancing measures: "Distance, hands, mask."

“This is a health crisis, but it doesn’t just depend on the health system, the important struggle depends on everyone,” she reiterated. Vergés has been concerned about this outbreak as the Covid-19 cases detected "are much higher this past week than the previous week" and are "well above" the Catalan average, with a visible upward trend. “It’s no joke,” she underlined.

There was some expectation that the ministry might announce stronger measures this afternoon, after the director of the Spanish health emergencies centre, Fernando Simón, had said yesterday that the Catalan government was considering local lockdowns in Lleida. However, the Catalan executive denied this possibility was being evaluated, a position which it has reaffirmed today.

Alert to hospitals and residences

Vergés, together with the mayor of Lleida, Miquel Pueyo, publicly appealed for anyone in the region with mild coronavirus symptoms to contact their CAP centre and not to go to the Emergency room at the main Arnau de Vilanova public hospital in Lleida, to avoid overwhelming it. Officials at the hospital, where several tents have been set up to add extra capacity, warned this afternoon that almost the entire floor for the admission of Covid-19 patients had already been filled.

"We need to prepare well in terms of care," said the minister with regard to the increase in admissions. On June 22nd there were 6 people on the floor and 4 in the ICU. Today, there are 21 in the ward and 6 in the ICU, according to data from the ministry - a tripling of admissions in ten days.

More tests and more positives

The minister affirmed that most of the cases detected are mild or asymptomatic and that it has been possible to trace the transmission routes correctly. The number of tests performed has increased, but so has the percentage of positive results. “It makes us think the epidemiological situation is worsening,” said Vergés, who says she is not worried about the outbreaks themselves but about the volume they may reach.

The health ministry also reiterated that the protection of vulnerable people - especially geriatric residents and health care staff - is one of its main goals, in addition to asking the population to reduce social contacts.

Evolution of new coronavirus cases in the Lleida health region. Yellow: daily confirmed cases. Blue: rolling 7-day average.

Tents to reduce pressure 

The Lleida mayor also spoke to dissuade people from coming to Lleida to seek work in the area's agri-food sector. "The sector does not need more hands," he said, explaining that last night the city council had provided emergency lodging for 260 people: "they had no job, no place to go, and in many cases did not even have ID papers".

Health service official Ramon Sentís explained that the tent wards installed outside the Arnau de Vilanova hospital were intended to reduce the pressure on the hospital's emergency room and to improve the triage process for Covid patients. "The big difference is that during the lockdown, the emergency room didn't deal with any other pathologies, only Covid." But now, said Sentís, the space had to be organised to cope with them all.