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Coronavirus: Catalonia prepares for the worst


Catalonia is already one of the areas in Europe most affected by the coronavirus — and the regions health minister fears that the death toll could skyrocket.

As of Wednesday, the virus had claimed the lives of 1,849 people in Catalonia, with nearly 20,000 cases confirmed. The death rate reached a new daily high on Tuesday, when 262 people died in 24 hours. On some days last week, the number of new daily cases was higher than in Madrid, Spains main hot spot.

The majority of cases are in Barcelona. However, health officials are concerned about Igualada and three other towns in Conca dÒdena, an area 50 kilometers north of Barcelona, where the death rate is equivalent to 63.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the 41.6 per 100,000 mortality rate in Lombardy in northern Italy.

This might be just the beginning. The epidemic could cause the deaths of between 7,500 and 13,000 people in the region depending on the severity of the quarantine measures, according to internal estimates from the Catalan government shared with POLITICO.

“This is a difficult week and I would say a very decisive one,” Catalan Health Minister Alba Vergés said in an interview. “This number of cases demands a lot from our health system. We need to increase capacity very quickly in order to cope with the rise in the number of patients in severe conditions were already experiencing.”

The coronavirus could also generate a full-blown political crisis between Catalonia and the Spanish government.

She warned the current Catalan death toll could be even higher, because the official figure only includes those dying in hospitals, and doesnt include people dying at home and in care homes.

“There are many deaths of old people at home that we will probably never know about. The priority is to be able to detect [active] cases,” she said. Vergés is now in talks with funeral homes to develop a new system to register all cases.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Igualada Mayor Marc Castells said that 140 people had died in the four towns in his region that have been on lockdown since March 13, earlier than the rest of Spain. Of them, only 40 tested positive for the virus; the remainder were not tested due to a shortage of testing kits.

“The data are not easy to digest but they can help us to understand the complexity of what we are living [through],” Castells said. “All mayors in the country must prepare because what is coming is important.”

Castells is demanding mass testing of all residents in Conca dÒdena, but testing kits are in short supply in Catalonia. The Catalan government is verifying the reliability of about 25,000 fast-testing kits that arrived from China this week, and aims to distribute them in the coming days, giving priority to front-line health workers and care homes. It is not clear yet how many of the kits will be sent to Conca dÒdena, which has a total population of 70,000.

Vergés, whose own family is in isolation in Igualada, said it does not make sense to have a uniform response or centralize decision-making in Madrid “because the epidemic behaves in very different ways in Madrid, Catalonia and other territories, and the capacity of the health systems is also different.”

She said she has been in regular contact with national Health Minister Salvador Illa and her counterpart in the Madrid regional government to learn how to prepare for what is likely to come.

Vergés admitted the increase in the number of cases, which has more than doubled in a week despite the lockdown, puts great pressure on hospitals. Catalonia had increased the number of beds in intensive care units to nearly 1,820 as of Wednesday, of which 1,652 are occupied. The aim is to keep expanding capacity while setting aside 15 percent of intensive care beds for patients suffering from other conditions, she said.

About 500 patients are being treated in hotels that have been converted into hospitals. Fira de Barcelona, a conference venue that was supposed to host the canceled Mobile World Congress in February, is being turned into a makeshift hospital. It will have 300 beds at first, with plans to increase that to 2,000.

Meanwhile, the managers of about 40 care homes in Catalonia have asked the regional government to allow the army to disinfect their facilities, but they are still waiting for an answer, according to Spanish news agency EFE.

In previous days, the Catalan government was accused of rejecting the help of the Spanish army to set up a makeshift hospital — a claim Vergés denied.

“I have never rejected any offer and I am not going to reject it ever, but I will do all that is necessary to look after people. They asked me and I said that for the time being we had not considered that option because we were assessing locations we can utilize. But if it is needed, Read More – Source