Madrid: Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the number of people in Spain who have contracted coronavirus since the start of the pandemic likely exceeds 3 million, some three times higher than official data would suggest.
The much steeper figure is based on serology tests, which measure the antibody response, Sanchez said Friday in Madrid, reiterating an appeal for national unity and for citizens to restrict movement and social contact. At the same time, he indicated that curbs would not be tightened in a way that causes unnecessary damage to the economy.
“We have to put in place the measures needed with the least economic impact,” Sanchez said. “We must at all cost avoid going back to home confinements as we did in spring,” he added. “The next few weeks and months, now that we enter the winter, will be difficult, very difficult.”
Spain this week became the first Western European nation to surpass 1 million infections, according to health ministry figures, as cases surge nationwide and officials seek an effective strategy to check the spread. Health Minister Salvador Illa conceded Thursday that in parts of the country the pandemic is out of control.
By citing the 3 million figure, Sanchez is highlighting how official data can drastically underestimate the scale of the spread. It’s an issue that has been flagged by the World Health Organization, which estimates that 10% of people worldwide may have been infected with Covid-19.
In Spain, the trend in the Madrid region, including the capital where the government has declared a state of emergency, is of particular concern. Occupancy of intensive-care beds by Covid-19 patients has been close to 40% for several weeks, well above the national average of about 20%.
The Madrid regional authority on Friday announced tightened restrictions on movement to take effect Saturday, banning social gatherings between midnight and 6 a.m. for people who do not live together and closing bars and restaurants from midnight.
The situation has also been deteriorating in other parts of the country, with a surge of cases in Catalonia, Spain’s most populous region, and Aragon, among other areas.
On Thursday, the number of daily infections climbed close to 8,000, similar to numbers recorded at the end of March and in early April, when Spain was at the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.
While at the time hundreds were dying from the virus every day, the number of fatalities is now comparatively low, with 494 deaths recorded over the past week.
-With assistance from Thomas Gualtieri. -Bloomberg
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