They have accumulated two consecutive decreases in their rate of respiratory virus positives, which allows them to make the use of face masks into a mere recommendation.
Five regions of Spain are now in a position to convert the obligation to wear a mask when visiting any health centre, hospital or surgery into a mere recommendation. This is just a few days after the national Ministry of Health unilaterally imposed this measure on all the regions on Wednesday in an attempt to curb the flu epidemic that has been affecting the whole country since mid-December and alleviate as far as possible the saturation of health centres in some areas.
Andalucía, the Basque Country, Cantabria, Extremadura and the Canary Islands from on Thursday met the conditions that allows them to decide whether to move from the general obligation to use the mask in health centres to a recommendation.
The five regions have reduced their number of acute respiratory infections per 100,000 inhabitants for the second consecutive week. This rate includes all new diagnoses of infection by influenza virus, Covid or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) made by primary care physicians, according to the epidemiological report prepared by the Institute of Health Carlos III, for the first week of 2024.
However, it is not automatic. It will be up to each regional health department that complies with the double rate rollback to decide whether to move to a mere recommendation in surgeries and hospitals or to maintain the face mask obligation. When it comes to making this decision, the five regions are not in the same situation. While Andalucía and Extremadura have overall infection rates of 459 and 675, almost half the national average, others such as Cantabria and the Canary Islands, with rates of 1,243 and 1,122, have improved their dismal situation of 15 days ago, but far exceed the Spanish average of infections.
The general Spanish infection rate, which includes the three main respiratory viruses, with 935 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, fell slightly in the first week of the year, by 3% compared to seven days earlier, thanks to the fact that the flu epidemic, which had been rising sharply for three weeks and pulling up the general rate, may have reached its winter peak.
The cases of influenza per 100,000 inhabitants detected by family doctors in the week following New Year are 387, 51 less than in the week of Christmas Eve, representing a drop of 11.6%. This is in addition to the decline in infections due to Covid and RSV viruses, whose diagnoses in primary care began to fall the previous week.
However, the problem cannot yet be considered over, as the pressure of these winter infections on hospital beds is at seasonal highs. There are 14 admissions on average per 100,000 inhabitants, an increase of no less than 47%, as in the last week of 2023 the rate was 9.5 admissions. This is the ninth consecutive week in which the number of admissions due to this epidemic has increased, affecting mainly elderly patients, most of them with chronic pathologies.
Before we can be sure whether this year’s flu epidemic has already peaked, and has headed down the downward curve, we will have to wait for the official data for the second week of January, which will be released next Thursday.