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Spain tops 2 million cases as infection rate rises in third wave

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MADRID • Spain has become the fourth Western European country to pass two million cumulative Covid-19 cases, according to health ministry data on Thursday, while the rate of infection continues to climb.

The milestone came as the health ministry reported 42,360 cases since Tuesday, bringing the total to 2,024,904.

But seroprevalence studies that test people using a blood serum sample suggest the figure is far higher.

“The total number of confirmed cases… already exceeds two million today,” said Ms Maria Jose Serra, deputy head of the health ministry’s emergencies unit.

“Clearly, we are seeing a new increase of cases, they had decreased and now they are increasing again in what we could call the third wave.”

Over the same 48-hour period, Spain also registered another 245 deaths, raising the overall toll to 51,675.

After dipping below 200 cases per 100,000 people in early December, the coronavirus’ incidence increased steadily to reach 321 cases per 100,000, figures on Thursday showed.

Ms Jose Serra said Spain had identified “around 60 confirmed cases” of the highly contagious coronavirus variant that is sweeping Britain, but added it was not a key driver in the recent surge.

Meanwhile, the authorities in the northern region of Castile and Leon have announced that they would close shopping centres and gyms, and extended a ban on non-essential travel across regional borders until May.

The move follows a similar tightening in north-eastern Catalonia, where all citizens have been confined to their home municipality for 10 days except for urgent trips.

On Oct 21, Spain became the first European country to record a million coronavirus infections, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez admitting just days later that the real number was three times higher.

Although the numbers have shot up, prompting most of Spain’s 17 regions to impose new curbs on public life, the government has remained adamant that it will not impose a new lockdown, and measures across most of Spain remain less stringent than elsewhere in the region.

Since the lockdown ended in June, the various regions have taken responsibility for managing the pandemic, with the state of emergency granting them the legal rights to enforce a curfew and other restrictions.

But it does not give them the power to impose a regional lockdown – which can be done only by the central government.

Spain has vaccinated 207,323 people so far, up by nearly 68,000 since Tuesday.

Experts see mass vaccinations as the best route back to normality, but the first roll-outs have coincided with alarming spikes in deaths and caseloads across many parts of the world.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE