Catalonia’s Covid-19 track-and-trace unit has revealed that almost half of the contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus do not comply with the recommendation to self-isolate for two weeks.
With Covid-19 transmission in Spain reaching a higher rate than in the US and the rest of Europe, questions are mounting over the country’s testing and tracing operations. A three-month lockdown had virtually stopped the virus in its tracks at the end of June.
“The best weapon we have is isolation and avoiding all contacts. Without that, everything else we do counts for nothing,” said Jacobo Mendioroz, the head of Catalonia’s epidemiological control unit.
According to Dr Mendioroz’s findings, 45 per cent of the people his team had identified as close contacts of positive cases failed to self-isolate correctly.
Among those who had themselves tested positive for Covid-19, the number not observing quarantine rules was lower, at 13 per cent.
The findings came after Catalonia’s health service said it had detected 711 asymptomatic positives after carrying out mass screening in areas of Barcelona where community transmission is taking place. That led to 3,000 close contacts being traced and urged to self-isolate.
But socioeconomic factors such as poverty and cramped living conditions often mean that tracers have an uphill battle trying to convince people to remain in isolation for a fortnight.
“I don’t want to give the impression that people are not complying because they are going off on holiday,” explained Dr Mendioroz. “Basically, we are talking about people in vulnerable situations.”
Catalonia reported 1,350 new cases on Friday, while Madrid, Spain’s worst-affected region, registered more than 2,600 the previous day. Across the whole of Spain, just under 10,000 positives were reported on Thursday, although Health Minister Salvador Illa insisted that Covid cases were only taking up around five per cent of hospital capacity.
Like Catalonia, the Madrid region has launched random screening in an attempt to detect asymptomatic patients in several areas, including the capital’s poorer southern neighbourhoods.
In Usera, a district with a transmission rate of 800 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days -- more than four times Spain’s national level -- a worker at Las Calesas health centre told the online newspaper eldiario.es that she is asked repeatedly by contacts how they can self-isolate in a shared family room and how they can get sick pay if they work for cash without a contract.
“The authorities can recommend staying at home but if someone doesn’t have the right conditions to comply with that, it’s useless,” said Javier Segura, an epidemiologist from Madrid’s public health department.
“In other words, being able to offer a space in which to self-isolate if you cannot do it at home, or guaranteeing that your boss is not going to fire you.”
Madrid is one of around half of Spain’s 17 regions to have requested a portion of the 2,000 contact tracers the Spanish military has trained to support local efforts.
The region has struggled to boost its own numbers of contact tracers, this month reaching 350 trained staff with a further 200 telephonists to provide back-up.