Passengers waiting with suitcases at an airport. / AGENCY

Spain fails to stop the imported cases of Covid from foreign travellers

Some 163 passengers from the UK have tested coronavirus positive after arriving in Spain in the last month, second only behind Romania with 196

MELCHOR SÁIZ-PARDO / ÁLVARO SOTO

Spain has a new 'Achilles’ heel' in its fight against the coronavirus: imported cases of the disease from international travellers.

Despite the impressive regression of Covid-19 in the Spain in the last two months, which has led to the country having one of the lowest incidence rates in the world, the country has hardly seen any reduction in the number of positive cases arriving from third countries compared to the peak of the fifth wave at the end of July.

And the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health have sounded alarm bells among the experts at the Centre for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies (CCAES).

Last week, Spain notified 229 new imported cases diagnosed in the last seven days, only 20 per cent less positives than on Wednesday, 27 July, at the peak of the fifth wave when Spain counted 286 positives coming from abroad. That was when the national incidence rate reached 701 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, a rate 17 times higher than the current one, which is around 40 cases.

5,668 imported positives

Since then the Ministry of Health has detected 5,668 imported positives. That is, an average of 71 daily cases. The added problem – the CCAES explains - is twofold: the current origin of infections is from countries with very high levels of incidence with which Spain not only has very strong ties, but also large numbers of foreign residents and an important flow of tourists.

Currently, the country where most coronavirus positive cases are coming from is Romania, with 196 positives detected in the last four weeks. With more than 1,079,726 residents, Romanian is the nationality with the largest stable presence in Spain. But the problem is that Romania, with more than 16,000 daily cases, is the country in the EU and in the entire West with the highest cumulative incidence, with about 850 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than 20 times the rate in Spain.

Infected travellers from the UK

The second state that is currently importing the most infected travellers into Spain is the United Kingdom, with 163 positives from British newcomers in the last month. The United Kingdom, with 381,448 stable residents and tens of thousands of tourists is reporting around 45,000 new infections daily and has an incidence rate close to 750, 18 times higher than the Spanish rate.

Morocco is currently the third largest importer of infections despite the fact that the tourist movement between the two countries is practically nil and the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla remain closed due to the diplomatic crisis. And even so, in the last four weeks, 104 cases from this country have been detected, especially among members of the legal residents, which in Spain reaches 811,530. The data on incidence rate in Morocco is uncertain and the Ministry of Health avoids including them in its official statistics.

The current prevalence of imported cases from these three countries with a large presence of legal residents and tourists is unprecedented. On 29 June, a week after the take-off of the fifth wave in Spain, the Ministry of Health began to publish reports on the country of origin of imported cases detected in the national territory during the previous four weeks, something that had not been done until then. The ranking was led by Colombia (85 cases), Mexico (84), Morocco (63), the Dominican Republic (46) and the United Kingdom (41).

Portugese cases

But the situation changed radically in just two weeks, the average incubation period of the virus. By 13 July, Portugal, hit by the Delta variant before the rest of continental Europe, was leading the list of importing countries of cases to Spain with 120 positives. In just a fortnight, the neighbouring country had quadrupled the number of infected people travelling to Spain.

By the end of July, the cases imported from Portugal were already around 450 a month, rates that have never been exceeded. The cases of the Delta variant imported from Portugal since the beginning of July led to the fifth wave in Spain being unleashed due to the still low vaccination rates. But now, the massive arrival of cases from Romania, the United Kingdom and Morocco, where the Delta variant is also already predominant, is not having such serious effects due to the current high levels of vaccination, the Public Health Commission explains.