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The effects of the fifth wave of Covid are slowly moving through the Catalan healthcare system. Two weeks ago, it was the primary care centres (CAPs) that were overwhelmed, but now the pressure has moved to hospital beds and intensive care units. In the last 24 hours, the total number of Covid patients in intensive care has reached 307 - close to half the peak reached in January, but this time one in five patients is aged 40 or younger. The average age in the intensive care units of Catalan hospitals is now 50, much lower than in previous waves when the average age was 63, as noted by the Catalan health minister, Josep Maria Argimon, in a interview on radio station Cadena SER.


Total Covid patients in intensive care beds in Catalan hospitals (yellow = aged over 50, blue = aged under 50)


Breakdown by age group, Covid patients in intensive care beds in Catalan hospitals, as at 18th July 2021

Admissions of Covid patients to ordinary wards have also increased: 138 new patients today, after an increases of 118 the previous day. Thus, there are a total of 1,683 people admitted for coronavirus. Mortality, however, has fallen slightly compared to the previous day, with 7 deaths recorded.


Daily deaths from coronavirus in Catalonia. 

All this brings the health system closer to a situation of maximum stress. Following similar statements from health minister Argimon, CatSalut director Gemma Craywinckel also acknowledged today that the system had reacted late to the fifth wave of Covid-19 and predicted that by the end of July the number of critical patients could be 400 or 500, similar to the figure in January, which would take ICUs to their limit.

Slight falls in incidence 

The epidemiological data in Catalonia has been increasing for days on end, but some indicators are now beginning to decline. An example is the outbreak risk (EPG), which, while still shockingly high, has shown small but constant falls for days: when anything over 100 is considered "high", it currently stands at 1,314 points, down from the more than 1,600 points recorded earlier this month. The cumulative incidence for the last 14 days (IA14) has risen slightly from the previous day and is at 1,187.61 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Likewise, a very dangerous level but slowly declining.


IA14 in Catalonia (Cumulative incidence of new Covid cases over the last 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants) (yellow = aged over 50, blue = aged under 50)

Another epidemiological indicator that shows the particular character of this fifth wave is the average age of new infections. It is comparatively very low, but since the beginning of July, when it stood at 26 years, it has risen slowly to reach 30 years. The percentage of tests that yield positive results currently sits at 20.61%. In the last few hours, 4,072 new infections have been registered, a typical "Monday" figure due to the fact that not so many tests are carried out over the weekend.

Vaccination continues apace

There is some good news in this fifth wave of the coronavirus in Catalonia and it comes mostly from the vaccination campaign. The rate of vaccine jabs continues at similar rates to recent days. At present in Catalonia, more second doses are being administered than first jabs: 16,709 versus 3,859, respectively. This responds to the intention to prioritize second doses for at-risk groups who still haven't received both their shots. More than 50% of the population of Catalonia is now fully vaccinated, a total of 4,039,064 Catalans.


How many people have been vaccinated in Catalonia? (Yellow = first shot, green = second shot)

For a detailed breakdown of vaccination figures in Catalonia, see here.

Vaccination in Catalonia is currently underway for all age groups aged 16 and over. But now on the table is the possibility of beginning Covid shots for the youngest part of the population. In her interview with RAC1, Gemma Craywinckel discussed the possibility of vaccinating children under 16 and said that "it would be good to be able to incorporate them from autumn onwards." She said it could start "at the beginning of the school term, before that, we won't be able to".

Summer of curfew?

Among the new measures now in place in Catalonia to deal with the fifth Covid-19 wave is the return to night-time curfew, this time from 1am to 6am. According to Argimon, this measure will begin to bear fruit in a week. However, he acknowledges that "to lower incidence rates we will have to wait more than one week, more than two and more than three." A summer of curfew in some Catalan municipalities is a plausible forecast for Catalonia. Dr. Bonaventura Clotet told RAC1 that "for the present" he foresees a summer with curfew in force.


Outbreak risk (EPG) in Catalonia by municipalities.  

What's the reason for the curfew? Basically, it aims to keep hospital pressure from getting out of control, which is the main focus during this current wave. And thus, saving lives and allowing the best possible care to all those who need it. The Catalan health minister recalled: "We know that when infections increase, hospital pressure increases within 8, 10 or 12 days. And although currently only 1% of those infected get admitted to hospital, 1% of a lot of people is also a lot of people".

MAP | Coronavirus infections in Catalonia by municipalities and neighborhoods

GRAPHS | How is vaccination progressing in Catalonia?

GRAPHS | How is the coronavirus pandemic evolving in each part of Catalonia?

GRAPHS & DATA | Latest coronavirus statistics for Catalonia and Spain

Main image: ICU at the Hospital del Mar. / Photo: Sergi Alcàzar