By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) - With a record number of over 2,200 coronavirus infections on Thursday, health authorities in the Basque Country are canceling some non-urgent surgeries and adding more critical care beds to treat COVID-19 patients.
For the first time, more than one out of every 100 people has been infected in a two-week period in the northern Spanish region.
According to data compiled by the Economist, the Basque Country has the fourth-highest infection rate in Europe, while Navarra, which borders it to the east, has the single highest infection rate. At the same time, the percentage of tests coming back positive has surged above 15% in both regions.
Across Spain, the infection rate and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care have doubled over two weeks. Most of the northern half of the country is in a high-risk situation, according to the government’s classification system.
While some regional governments have opted for vaccine passports and capacity limits, the Spanish government has so far refused to implement measures stricter than indoor masking to curb the contagion before the Christmas holidays.
Despite a recent warning from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that vaccination is not enough to stop the predicted damage from the omicron variant, Spain still insists that vaccines are the frontline of defense.
“We’ve just started vaccinating children and we’re promoting booster shots so the elderly people are still immune,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told media in Brussels when asked about the surging caseload. “That’s Spain’s position.”
Spain has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, with 90% of its population above the age of 12 fully vaccinated. On Wednesday, it opened up vaccines for children that currently have the highest infection rate in the country.
While the vaccines have not resulted in herd immunity, deaths and hospitalizations are now lower compared to the past waves.
Last January, when the infection rate hit a similar level – around 420 cases per 100,000 – there were nearly 16,800 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and 576 deaths in a week.
Now, with the vaccines, there are almost 6,400 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, and 180 fatalities have been reported over the last week.
In Spain, the delta variant continues to fuel most infections, though the country has confirmed at least 49 cases of omicron, most of which have been spread inside the country.