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Return to State of Alarm looming?

Zaragoza, Barcelona and Llerida have become the new front line in a desperate battle against a potential “second wave” of COVID-19.

The regional governments of Aragón and Cataluña have implored people to undertake voluntary actions to reduce movement and social engagement to help reduce the increasing risk of infection. It seems the requests in both Barcelona and Zaragoza have fallen on relatively deaf ears with virtually no decline in anticipated traffic leaving the Aragonese capital over the weekend and over 350,000 vehicles leaving the larger Barcelona metropolitan area in recent days. Police control have stopped vehicles in Aragon and asked drivers to consider if their journey is essential but with no legal enforcement available to them they can only wave cars on their way.

The headlines in Zaragoza are focused on the neighbourhoods in the south of the city. Valdespartera reporting 625 suspected cases and Sagasta – Ruiseñores 689, but the local authority COVID outbreak map makes for grim reading across the entire city. Avda Cataluña in the northeast of the city reporting almost the same figures with the latest data up to the 13th of July the trend has been climbing across all districts. This data can be misleading though, this is not cases of the “New Normal” but since the beginning of the COVID “era”, but officials have been pointing to the most recent numbers of concern in the south of the city, especially Delicias, Bombarda and Univérsitas districts.

As the situation worsened in the Zaragoza region 92,700 mink were condemned to slaughter after positive tests on a farm in the Teruel region. The risks of animal to human transmission has been considered in China, The Netherlands, Denmark and Poland, that have large Mink fur trades. After sample tests returned an 86.67% positive return the regional Minister for Agriculture Joaquín Olona announced the decision. There was no evidence to determine cross-species transmission.

It is believed this recent outbreak is connected to the movement of workers collecting fruit for harvest in the region, although in general the Spanish case spike has been attributed to family gatherings and adolescents drinking together in the streets, the famous botellon parties.

Agricultural workers can often live in very close quarters during their harvest work and it is thought this is to blame for the increased transmission as they return to the city with the virus. Gatherings of family and friends often see us “drop our guard”, and relax. Social distancing is forgotten and masks dispensed with. Family meals can often take place in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. Finger food is a key part of Spanish meal culture as well, and this could clearly have health implications in this “New Normal” we find ourselves in. The regional government in Valencia have also decreed mandatory use of face masks in public spaces pointing out that cases for people between 20 and 40 years old are quadrupling as a result of private parties and nightlife activities not adhering to social distancing and security measures.

A return to Phase 2 of the Pandemic response has seen limits to capacity for restaurants and bars, closure of communal facilities and the addition of compulsory requirements to wear face masks. There is an increasing fear that these measures will not be enough and a further spell of enforced lockdown under State of Alarm legislation is required.

Francisco Javier Fanlo is the Director General of Public Health in Aragon has stressed that they recommend people do not leave the Zaragoza region, but if they are on the street in the city, wear a mask, maintain social distance and ensure hygiene practises to protect against infection.

Fanlo points out there is no “standard” for declaring a State of Alarm.

They are currently assessing epidemiological data and impacts on health service provision. He believes the system has enough capability to manage the current outbreak without resorting to State of Alarm measures, but advises the situation is being closely monitored.

That being said, the Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has spoken of his “deep concern” at the recent surge in cases and has clearly stated that the Government are no longer ruling out a return to a nationwide State of Alarm and lockdown measures. The French government are openly considering a closure of the border with Cataluña.


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